image Photo: Reuters

Iran to US: don’t test our resolve

The warning comes as top Iranian and United States officials resume indirect talks in Vienna this week on reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear pact, although both sides played down chances of a breakthrough.

By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner

The ball is in Washington’s court to save the nuclear deal with world powers, Iranian top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani tweeted ahead of his trip to Austria.

“Heading to Vienna to advance the negotiations. The onus is on those who breached the deal & have failed to distance from ominous legacy,” Bagheri Kani wrote, referring to the the decision by  former US President Donald Trump abandon the JCPOA under which Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for economic sanctions relief. Following the US withdrawal and re-imposition of stiff sanctions in 2018, Iran openly breached terms of the deal.

Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian confirmed that the Islamic Republic is in the process of activating hundreds of new-generation uranium enrichment centrifuges – claiming it to be a response to a new wave of US sanctions against firms that helped sell Iranian oil illegally.

“In response to American action, we started pumping gas into hundreds of a new generation of centrifuges last night, based on the decision made (by the Iranian government),” he said, while warning that, “Americans should not think that they can gain concessions at the negotiating table with these actions. America should put aside excessive ambition. We are people of negotiation and logic.”

“We are serious about reaching a good, strong and lasting agreement. But if the American side wants to continue this path, we will never be without a plan,” Iran’s top diplomat went on to stress.

Speaking at the United Nations, Iran’s UN Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi said the Islamic Republic had negotiated in good faith during the Vienna Talks and blamed the administration of US President Joe Biden for failing to guarantee Iran would receive pact’s economic benefits.

“Achieving this objective has been delayed because the United States is yet to decide to give assurance that Iran will enjoy the promised economic benefits in the agreement,” he said, stressing, “When the US makes the right decision Iran, in turn, will cease its remedial actions and resume the full implementation of its nuclear related measures.”

An Iranian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the talks would resume today.

US Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley confirmed he was heading to Vienna but indicated a lack of optimism over achievement of any significant progress.

“Our expectations are in check, but the United States welcomes EU (European Union) efforts and is prepared for a good faith attempt to reach a deal. It will shortly be clear if Iran is prepared for the same,” he posted on Twitter.

Malley said the talks would proceed on the basis of a text recently proposed by High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell to restore the 2015 accord.

A deal seemed within reach this past March after 11 months of EU-mediated negotiations, but an impasse resulted over several obstacles including Tehran’s demand that Washington provide guarantees that no US president would abandon the deal as Trump did. Biden cannot enforce such a condition as the nuclear deal is a non-binding political understanding and not a legally binding treaty.

Another impediment is Tehran’s demand that Washington remove Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization blacklist – which the White House has already rejected.

The indirect talks between Bagheri Kani and Malley ended in Qatar in June without progress.

An Iranian official told Reuters the talks in Vienna will be “in the format of the Doha meeting”, where EU envoy Enrique Mora shuttled between Bagheri Kani and Malley because Tehran refused to hold direct talks with Washington.

In the latest sign Iran’s nuclear program is advancing, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi confirmed that Iran has informed the organization of its intention to install new centrifuges but dismissed Tehran’s claim that they numbered in the hundred.

“We have been informed that new centrifuges, new cascades, are being prepared for operation and our inspectors are mobilized and they are going to be looking into this, when this happens. Not all of them (centrifuges) have been prepared, just part of them, and we are going to be informing the (IAEA) Board of Governors soon,” he said while speaking in New York.

When asked whether Iran’s nuclear advancements have already rendered the JCPOA obsolete; the IAEA Director General stressed that the country’s current atomic program varies widely from the one in 2015. “I think everybody recognizes that,” he said, adding that, “starting with the Iranians who are saying that they are making strides and amazing advances and the program is moving ahead very, very fast. And not only ahead, but sideways as well, because it’s growing in ambition and in capacity. That doesn’t mean we cannot verify it, but quite clearly, we need the degree of access commensurate with the characteristics of that program.”

Grossi further rebuffed incessant Iranian claims that IAEA reports are solely based on technical evaluations. In the absence of such monitoring operations, the agency is unable to declare Iran’s nuclear program peaceful until the Islamic Republic grants full access and provides credible answers to outstanding questions.

“My only power is the power of the technical impartiality of the IAEA. We don’t, we don’t have any political agendas. We, we say things as they are. They (Iran) may choose not to collaborate with us, but I’m convinced that what they aspire to is to, and they have, and I say this because they have they have said so, and they have told me things. What they want is fair treatment, is to be considered as any other country in the international community to do that. When it comes to nuclear, good words will not do it. What you need to do is to be transparent and compliant and work with us. We are ready and I hope that they will be as well,” said the IAEA chief.