Tehran, Iran – Iran has begun the process of feeding gas into cascades of new centrifuges as its top diplomat proposed a new round of negotiations in Vienna to restore the country’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesperson of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), told state television Monday night that an order was given to begin feeding gas into “hundreds” of both first-generation IR-1 and advanced IR-6 machines.
He said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was informed of the move, which according to Kamalvandi is in line with a December 2020 parliament law that demanded increased uranium enrichment using advanced machines until such a time that unilateral United States sanctions are lifted.
This came hours after Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Tehran is reviewing what was billed as a final proposed text by the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell last week to “conclude” negotiations that began in the Austrian capital in April 2021.
“We have announced our readiness so in a specified time the delegations of Iran, 4+1 and the US – indirectly – can follow up on their talks in Vienna to pursue results,” Amirabdollahian said in reference to the nuclear-deal parties China, Russia, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
The negotiations in Vienna to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the deal is formally known, were put on “pause” in March after most issues were resolved, leaving only a handful of impactful points left that need to be decided politically.
But indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington have since stalled, and a two-day round of talks in Qatar in late June also concluded without progress. It is still unclear whether the US and its European allies will agree to a new round of talks while the EU has called for a final political decision on its proposed text.
For his part, the Iranian foreign minister on Monday reiterated that Tehran wants its “red lines” considered in a potential agreement, which he said could materialize if Washington shows “flexibility” and a “realistic” approach.
During a conference in New York on Monday aimed at reviewing the parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said a restored JCPOA remains the “best outcome” for global nonproliferation.
The US unilaterally abandoned the deal in 2018 under former President Donald Trump, imposing harsh sanctions that have since been enforced and expanded upon by President Joe Biden.
The Biden administration imposed new sanctions on Monday to target Iran’s petrochemical exports, a move that Iran’s foreign ministry denounced as a continuation of the “failed US maximum pressure policy” and also because it came as dozens of Iranians have died as a result of flash floods across the country.
‘Able but not planning to make a bomb’
Addressing the same conference, IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said if Tehran wants to prove the peacefulness of its nuclear program, it must grant “complete information” to the agency.
“The lack of progress in verifying the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program will have consequences on the regional security landscape,” he said.
Iran dismantled 27 agency cameras covered by the JCPOA in June after a resolution censuring its insufficient cooperation with the agency was put forward by the US, UK, France and Germany and was passed by the agency’s board of governors.
The developments come as several high-ranking Iranian officials have said in recent weeks that Iran has the technical ability to make a nuclear bomb, but it has no plans to do so.
Iran’s nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami was widely quoted by Iranian media as making that statement on Monday, but AOEI spokesperson Kamalvandi quickly sought to clarify, saying Eslami was “misunderstood and misjudged” by the media when he said that.
“Iran’s strategic potential and military power is deterrent enough to repel any foreign threats, thus rendering it pointless for the country to design and develop nuclear weapons,” Kamalvandi said.
But two other figures, advisers to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – Kamal Kharrazi and Mohammad Javad Larijani – have said in the past month that Iran has the ability but no plan to build nuclear weapons, signaling new rhetoric in Tehran’s messaging to the West.
Iran’s official stance remains that it never has and never will seek a bomb, in accordance with a ruling by the supreme leader.