Iran ramps up nuke enrichment
Tehran responds against attack amid negotiations
Published: Apr 15, 2021 07:13 PM
Talks to save the Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna on Thursday amid new tensions, with Tehran preparing to ramp up uranium enrichment in response to an attack on a facility it blamed on arch-foe Israel.

After a positive first round of negotiations aimed at resurrecting the 2015 agreement scuttled by Donald Trump, Iran's push toward enrichment levels needed for military use "puts pressure on everyone," a European diplomat said.

Tehran says the move is a response to Israel's "nuclear terrorism" after an explosion on Sunday knocked out power at its Natanz enrichment plant. 

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement, but public radio reports in the country said it was a sabotage operation by the Mossad spy agency, citing unnamed intelligence sources.

"It definitely complicates things," the diplomat said, ahead of the talks between the remaining members of the deal - Iran, China, Russia, France, the UK plus Germany - resuming at 12:30 pm local time. 

But events of the past few days have also "reminded both parties that the status quo is a lose-lose situation," and have "added urgency" to the talks, said Ali Vaez, Iran Project Director at the International Crisis Group think tank. 

"It is clear that the more the diplomatic process drags on, the higher the risk that it gets derailed by saboteurs and those acting in bad faith," Vaez added.

Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal has been disintegrating since former US president Donald Trump dramatically withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, prompting Iran to retaliate by exceeding its agreed limits on nuclear activity.

Britain, France and Germany have expressed "grave concern" over the most recent enrichment move, while also rejecting "all escalatory measures by any actor."

China and Russia also strongly back the US returning to the deal, believing it addresses the most pressing concerns with Iran.

Russia's representative in Vienna said the deal remained the "only viable solution which can bring the Iranian nuclear program back to the agreed parameters."

But the Joe Biden administration, while agreeing on the JCPOA's value, has stressed that it is waiting for Iran to first roll back steps away from compliance that it took to protest Trump's sanctions.

Washington is "very open-eyed about how this will be a long process," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday.
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