Vienna: The United States said on Tuesday that it has seen possible progress in negotiations with Iran, but together with European negotiators urged the urgent cancellation of Tehran’s nuclear program.
Negotiations resumed in Vienna on Monday to renew progress in restoring the landmark 2015 agreement that restricted Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
“There may have been some modest progress,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington.
“But it is in some ways too soon to say how substantive that progress may have been. At a minimum any progress, we believe, is falling short of Iran s accelerating nuclear steps and is far too slow.”
Former president Donald Trump in 2018 withdrew from the nuclear accord and imposed a slew of punishing sanctions, including a unilateral US ban on Iran selling its key export of oil.
President Joe Biden supports a return to the agreement but Iran has kept taking steps away from compliance as it presses for sanctions relief.
The Vienna talks began after Biden s election but stopped in June as Iran elected a new ultraconservative government. They resumed in late November with Iran agreeing to keep talking after a brief break.
“This negotiation is urgent,” negotiators from Britain, France and Germany said in a statement.
“We are clear that we are nearing the point where Iran s escalation of its nuclear programme will have completely hollowed out the JCPoA,” the so-called E3 powers said, referring to the deal s official name by its acronym.
“That means we have weeks, not months, to conclude a deal before the JCPoA s core non-proliferation benefits are lost.”
Israel, Iran s arch-enemy, has warned of military options if the Islamic republic s programme advances and is suspected in a shadowy campaign that has included the assassination of Tehran s top nuclear scientist.
The Biden administration also warned that if negotiations fail and Iran continues its nuclear work, pressure will be renewed.
Iran complied with the 2015 agreement before Trump withdrew, but has since taken key steps including strengthening uranium enrichment, even though it denies that it wants to obtain a nuclear arsenal.
On Saturday, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Director Mohamed Eslamy stated that even if the Vienna talks fail, Tehran has no plans to enrich uranium by more than 60%.
Eslami stated in a comment made by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that the level of enrichment is related to the country’s needs.
In response, E3 negotiators stated on Tuesday that a 60% enrichment is still “unprecedented for a country without nuclear weapons”. The military level is about 90%.
“Its increasing 60 percent stockpile is bringing Iran significantly closer to having fissile material, which could be used for nuclear weapons,” they said.
The United States did not specify areas of progress but Russia — which is participating along with China and the Europeans — said a working group had a “useful meeting” on nuclear issues and informal discussions on lifting sanctions.
“We observe indisputable progress,” Moscow s ambassador to the UN in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, wrote on Twitter.
US negotiator Rob Malley is participating indirectly, with European diplomats shuttling between hotels, as Iran refuses direct contact with the United States.
Iran s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was quoted by state news agency IRNA on Tuesday as saying the negotiations were “on a good track”.
“With the goodwill and seriousness from the other parties, we can consider (reaching) a quick agreement in the near future,” he said.
Enrique Mora, the EU diplomat who presided over the negotiations, said on Monday that all parties had shown “a clear willingness to work towards a successful conclusion” but the negotiations were “very difficult”.