While voicing concern about Iran's high level of uranium enrichment, the US State Department said Monday this will not give Tehran any negotiating leverage.
Spokesman Ned Price told reporters in his daily briefing that Iran’s escalatory nuclear steps, which include stockpiling highly enriched uranium, “will not provide Iran with any negotiating leverage when talks resume in Vienna next week.”
Iran began to violate an enrichment level of 3.67 percent set by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2019 when the United States imposed full oil export sanctions. Tehran has been enriching fissile material to 20 and 60 percent with having stockpiled more than 200 kilograms of the material, reducing the time needed to prepare 90 percent pure uranium for a nuclear bomb.
Price dismissed recent demands by Iran that the United States must lift all sanctions now in one step, saying that the Vienna talks are meant to resolve issues related to mutual steps needed for the restoration of the 2015 nuclear deal. That is what reportedly took place from April to June when the two sides were discussing which US sanctions should be lifted and when in exchange for Iran rolling back its violations of the JCPOA and moving toward the full restoration of the agreement.
But Tehran in recent weeks seems to be determined to change the nature of the talks to negotiations about first lifting US sanctions. For that reason, Washington and its three European allies (UK, France, Germany) that are members of the JCPOA have been insisting that when the talks resume on November 29, they should continue from the point where they were left off in June.
A reporter asked Price if he had a comment on a New York Times report Sunday that US officials have warned Israel that its attacks against Iranian nuclear targets are counterproductive, enabling Iran to rebuild an even more efficient enrichment system.
Price did not offer a direct comment on the report, but he said, “Look, at the end of the day, the United States and Israel, we share a common objective here, and that is to see to it that Iran is verifiably and permanently prevented from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Price also immediately added that “diplomacy in coordination with our allies and partners – and that, of course, includes Israel – is the best path to achieve that goal.”
Another time-sensitive a key issue is the monitoring of Iran’s nuclear facilities by the UN nuclear watchdog that Iran has restricted since the beginning of the year. The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is meeting this week in Vienna while its General Director Rafael Grossi is visiting Iran on Tuesday. The Agency has issued reports strongly criticizing Iran’s lack of cooperation and France last week demanded that the Board of Governors “send a strong message” to Tehran.
In the previous meeting of Governors in September, the US and its allies decided not to censure Iran in what appeared to be an attempt not to scuttle any chance of resuming talks with Iran. It is not clear if the France’s tough stance will carry the day this week, but the State Department spokesman on Monday appeared to be suggesting a ‘wait and see’ approach.