Iran Spokesman Hopeful Of Nuclear Deal Before New President Takes Office
Ali Rabiei, the Iranian government spokesman, expressed hope Tuesday that Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers would be revived before the “transfer of power in Iran,” referring to a new president taking office in August after the June 18 election. President Hassan Rouhani is ineligible for a third consecutive term but might prefer to end his president by restoring the deal regarded as the cornerstone of his presidency.
Despite the bitter disagreements within Iran’s political class over the 2015 agreement, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), it has not as yet become an issue in the June 18 election. Both Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have stressed that nuclear policy is made collectively, essentially through the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), and not by the president. But on any sensitive issue, Khamenei is known to have the final word.
Rabiei said Tuesday the Vienna talks were “taking place in an independent, legal-based process and within the framework of the general policies of the nezam (‘system,’ or ‘regime’).” He said Iran’s negotiators in Vienna were following Khamenei “point by point.”
But the spokesman offered a mild rebuke to principlists who have criticized the government’s handling of the nuclear issue, suggesting that those wanting to “delay” the process should realize there was “no impasse in the Vienna talks.” Both Rouhani and Abbas Araghchi, the deputy foreign minister leading negotiators in the Austrian capital, have criticized media outlets, including state-owned IRIB, for reporting the talks as deadlocked or stymied by excessive United States demands.
Rabiei said there were “no big obstacles” in Vienna and that “agreements-in-principle” had been reached on the crux issues of which US sanctions would need lifting, and which steps in Iran’s nuclear program reversed, for the JCPOA to be back in place.
“It’s natural that…the multiplicity of sanctions introduced by the Trump administration [after leaving the JCPOA in 2018], and Iran’s response to those sanctions, have created a lot of details over which we need to hold talks,” he said. “None of this is insurmountable, and with political will in two capitals, these small differences will be resolved…these problems need time, focus and attention to detail.”
Increasing Uranium Stockpile
A quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency sent to member states Monday confirmed continuing expansion of Iran’s nuclear program as both US sanctions and the Vienna talks continue. The agency said the three-monthly increase in Iran’s enriched-uranium stockpile was the lowest since August 2019. It was unclear how far this resulted from an attack on Iran’s Natanz plant on April 11, although the report’s figure of 20 cascades of centrifuges working at Natanz May 24, down from around 35, suggests it was a factor.
Iran’s enriched-uranium stockpile of 3,241 kg, reported by the IAEA, is well above the 202.8 kg JCPOA limit, if below the 6,000 kg Iran held in 2015, and includes 62.8 kg uranium enriched to 20 percent and 2.4 kg to 60 percent, exceeding the 3.67 percent JCPOA cap.
A separate IAEA report expressed IAEA concern over Iran’s failure to explain traces of nuclear material at three locations. The agency is currently monitoring Iran’s nuclear sites under an interim agreement – reached originally for three months in February, then extended for a month to around June 23 – giving greater access than required under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but less than under the Additional Protocol to the NPT, which Iran suspended in February after a law was passed in December by members of parliament angered by the assassination in November of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.