Iranian talks make progress despite enrichment activities

19 April 2021

A second round of talks in Vienna on Iran's nuclear programme on 17 April were reported to have made progress, despite Iran’s announcement that it was increasing uranium-enrichment levels to 60%. Under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran the P5+1 group of countries (the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China plus Germany) Iran agreed to limit its nuclear development in return for the lifting of sanctions. Under the JCPOA, Iran had committed to keep enrichment to 3.67%. However, after former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions in 2018, Iran began reviving its nuclear programme and had increased its enrichment level to 20% in January. Following an attack on its Natanz enrichment facility, widely believed to have been perpetrated by Israel, Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that enrichment levels would be increased to 60%.

The talks in Vienna are aimed at bringing the USA back into the JCPOA. Tehran has refused face-to-face talks with Washington but is in discussions with the other JCPOA members. The talks were chaired by the European Union, which carried out shuttle diplomacy with US negotiators located in a nearby hotel. "Progress has been made in a far-from-easy task. We need now more detailed work," European Union (EU) envoy Enrique Mora said. Chinese envoy Wang Qun said that "all parties have agreed to further pick up their pace in subsequent days by engaging [in] more extensive, substantive work on sanctions-lifting, as well as other relevant issues”.

US President Joe Biden said Iran's decision to increase uranium enrichment was “unhelpful”, but is “pleased” that Iran is still participating in indirect talks. Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, who is taking part in the talks, said serious disagreements still remained but that Tehran was working on a draft text as a framework for subsequent talks. He added that a “new understanding" had been reached.

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi said on 18 April that what is being pursued and discussed in Vienna is creating a clear picture of the lifting of sanctions. The talks the previous day had involved bilateral and multilateral talks in addition to the JCPOA meeting, IRNA reported. Araghchi held three meetings with EU Deputy Secretary-General Mora and a further meeting with chairmen of three European delegations. The outcomes of ongoing expert-level talks on sanctions and nuclear issues were reported to the JCPOA meeting.

The Iranian delegation, led by Araghchi, included representatives from the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), the Oil Ministry, and the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI).

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