Iranian Delegate Reiterates That New Nuclear Deal Dependent on Lifting U.S. Sanctions

An Iranian delegate reiterated that a new deal to halt Iran from having a nuclear bomb is dependent on the lifting of U.S. sanctions placed on the Middle Eastern country.

Iran's deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, said that once sanctions are lifted, the country will return to "full implementation" of the nuclear deal, titled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran has been violating the terms of the 2015 deal, after former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran.

"Once sanctions (are) verifiably lifted, we'll return to full implementation of the JCPOA," Araghchi said.

Iran's violations of the deal have been in attempts to pressure other nations currently involved—such as Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia—to try and offset U.S. sanctions. Ongoing talks have occurred since April, in which the U.S. has not been present, between diplomats about bringing America back into the deal.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi
Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi leaves the Grand Hotel on the day the JCPOA Iran nuclear talks are to resume on May 7, 2021 in Vienna, Austria. Araghchi said that a new nuclear deal is dependent on the U.S. lifting its reimposed sanctions. Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images

Iran has enriched uranium to slightly higher purity than previously thought due to "fluctuations" in the process, the United Nations' atomic watchdog said Wednesday.

The report underscores the challenges diplomats face in ongoing talks to bring the United States back into the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, which is supported by U.S. President Joe Biden.

The initial announcement from Iran that it would start enriching to 60% — which is not yet weapon's grade but its highest purity yet — came just as the talks were to begin in Vienna. International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi reported to member agencies on Tuesday that the latest inspections confirmed Iran continues to enrich uranium at up to 60% purity in its Natanz plant.

Additionally, samples taken April 22 "showed an enrichment level of up to 63% ... consistent with fluctuations of the enrichment levels experienced in the mode of production at that time," the IAEA said.

The agency added that on Monday inspectors had "verified that Iran had again changed the mode of production" by which it was producing uranium enriched to 60% purity.

The deal promised Iran economic incentives in exchanges for curbs on its nuclear program.

The other members of the nuclear deal have been shuttling between an American delegation also in Vienna and the Iranian delegation.

The pact is meant to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb, something the country insists it does not want to do. The government in Tehran has said it is prepared to reverse all of its violations but that Washington must remove all sanctions imposed under Trump — including measures imposed over issues not related to its nuclear program.

In addition to exceeding the purity of uranium enrichment past the 3.67% allowed, Iranian violations of the JCPOA have also included installing more advanced centrifuges and stockpiling more enriched uranium than permitted.

The U.S. has insisted that Iran must return to full compliance, but just how that would be carried out is still being discussed. For example, diplomats involved concede that Iranian nuclear scientists cannot unlearn the knowledge they acquired in the last three years, but it is not clear whether Iran's new centrifuges would need to be destroyed, mothballed and locked away, or simply taken offline.

Despite its violations of all major restrictions of the JCPOA, the other countries involved have insisted that it has been worth preserving, if nothing else because it has meant IAEA inspectors have been able to continue monitoring Iran's nuclear program.

That access may be further restricted soon, however.

Iran in February began restricting international inspections of its nuclear facilities, but under a last-minute deal worked out on Feb. 21 during a trip to Tehran by Grossi, some access was preserved.

Under the agreement, Iran said it would no longer share surveillance footage of its nuclear facilities with the IAEA but promised to preserve the tapes for three months.

It will then hand them over to the IAEA if it is granted sanctions relief. Otherwise, Iran has vowed to erase the recordings.

May 21 — one week from Friday — represents the end of that three-month window, though there has been some suggestion Iran may extend the deadline if it is satisfied with the progress of the Vienna talks.

Russian delegate Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted optimistically early Wednesday that it may even be possible to conclude an agreement on bringing the U.S. back into the JCPOA by that time.

"The Vienna talks make progress and the negotiators aim at completing the process as soon (as) possible," he write. "Hopefully by May 21. It's very difficult but doable."

Iran's delegate to the talks, Araghchi, threw some cold water on the hope of extending the deadline, however, tweeting that the resumption of the regular IAEA inspections "is predicated on sanctions being lifted."

"We'd like to get to it before 21 May, if possible," he wrote

"We're serious & determined, ready to do it even tomorrow."

Uranium Conversion Facility in Iran
In this Feb. 3, 2007 file photo, a technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran. The United Nations’ atomic watchdog says Iran has enriched uranium to slightly higher purity than previously thought due to “fluctuations” in the process in a report that underscores the challenges diplomats face in ongoing talks to bring the United States back into the nuclear deal with Tehran. Vahid Salemi/AP Photo