Iran’s top negotiator at talks to rescue a nuclear deal said Saturday progress had been made but that much work remains to be done before a final agreement is reached.
Iran and world powers resumed talks in Vienna that began earlier this month to revive a 2015 nuclear deal the U.S. abandoned three years ago.
“A new understanding appears to be emerging and there is a common ground between the parties on the ultimate goal,” Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi told state media. “But the path ahead is not an easy one and there are some serious disagreements.”
China’s representative at the negotiations said the other parties to the 2015 deal agreed to accelerate efforts to resolve issues, such as which sanctions against Tehran the U.S. will lift, and actions Iran must take to regain compliance with the deal.
Reaching an agreement was potentially complicated by Iran’s announcement this week, and confirmation Saturday by the U.N. watchdog agency, that it would enrich uranium at 60% purity, three times higher than before.
"The agency today verified that Iran had begun the production of UF6 enriched up to 60%” at the above-ground Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.
The move complicates talks aimed at reviving Iran's nuclear deal with major powers as it is a big step toward producing weapons-grade uranium.
Tehran’s announcement about ramping up its enrichment program came in response to last week’s attack on the Natanz nuclear facility that it blamed on Israel, a longtime foe that says Iran poses an existential threat.
As talks resumed in Vienna, Iranian state television named Reza Karimi, 43, as a suspect in the attack and said he fled the country “hours before” the incident.
State television showed a passport-style photograph of a man identified as Karimi that said he was born in the Iranian city of Kashan.
“Necessary steps are underway for his arrest and return to the country through legal channels,” the state television report said.
The European Union said Saturday’s negotiations would involve EU officials and envoys from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and Iran.
The 2015 agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, provided Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. The deal was reached in Vienna between Iran, Germany and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: China, France, Russia, Britain and the U.S.
The U.S. withdrew in 2018 and began unilaterally ratcheting up sanctions on Iran under then-President Donald Trump, who criticized the deal negotiated by his predecessor as not doing enough to stop objectionable Iranian behavior. Iran retaliated a year later by exceeding the JCPOA’s nuclear activity limits.