A senior U.S. State Department official on Saturday accused Iran of reneging on the compromises it made in the last round of talks to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement and making more demands in its most recent proposals.
“We can’t accept a situation in which Iran accelerates its nuclear program and slow-walks its nuclear diplomacy,” the official said, speaking on background.
The official said that the U.S. remained committed to the talks in Vienna but that Iranian negotiators “are going to have to change the posture that they take.”
"They are not going to get a better JCPOA deal out of these talks,” the official predicted, referring to the 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The State Department official’s assessment of the negotiations came one day after diplomats negotiating to revive the deal that curbed the Iranian nuclear program paused the talks until next week, with officials from the United States and Europe criticizing Iran for a lack of progress.
"What we've seen in the last couple of days is that Iran right now does not seem to be serious about doing what's necessary to return to compliance, which is why we ended this round of talks in Vienna," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday, addressing a virtual conference of world leaders organized by the Reuters news agency.
"If the path to a return to compliance with the agreement turns out to be a dead end, we will pursue other options," he added, without elaborating.
A U.S. State Department spokesman said Friday on background that earlier rounds of negotiations with Iran "made progress, finding creative compromise solutions to many of the hardest issues that were difficult for all sides.” But, he said, "Iran's approach this week was not, unfortunately, to try to resolve the remaining issues."
European officials also expressed frustration with Iran over the talks. A statement Friday from senior officials from France, Britain and Germany — the three European powers acting as mediators in the nuclear talks — said, "This week, [Iran] has backtracked on diplomatic progress made."
The United States and Iran resumed indirect negotiations in Vienna on Monday, with the mediators seeking to bring both sides back into compliance with the 2015 JCPOA deal. U.S. and Iranian negotiators previously held six inconclusive rounds of indirect talks in Vienna from April to June, when Iran suspended the negotiations ahead of its presidential election that month.
Under the JCPOA, Iran promised it would curb nuclear activities that could be weaponized in return for international sanctions relief. Tehran denies seeking nuclear weapons.
The U.S. administration of former President Donald Trump quit the JCPOA in 2018, saying it was not tough enough on Iran, and reimposed U.S. sanctions. Iran retaliated a year later by starting to publicly exceed JCPOA limits on its nuclear activities. Trump's successor, President Joe Biden, has said he wants to honor the deal again if Iran does the same.
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Iran's latest breach of JCPOA limits on Wednesday, saying it had begun using advanced centrifuges at its underground nuclear facility in Fordo to enrich uranium up to 20% purity, a short step away from weapons-grade levels.
Israel, a key U.S. ally whose destruction Iran has vowed to pursue, reacted to that news with alarm. The Israeli government said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke by phone with Blinken on Thursday and accused Tehran of using its Fordo advances as "nuclear blackmail" in the JCPOA talks. It said Bennett urged the United States and other world powers to respond by stopping the negotiations immediately.
Speaking to reporters in Stockholm on Thursday, Blinken said, "We will not accept the status quo of Iran building its [nuclear] program on the one hand and dragging its feet in talks on the other. That's not going to last."
"We're going to know very, very quickly, I think in the next day or two, whether Iran is serious or not," he said.
That was the first time any Biden administration official had publicly stated such a specific and short time frame for assessing Iran's negotiating position, after months of declining to do so.
Pair of Iranian proposals
On Wednesday, Iran handed two proposals to the Western powers for the U.S. sanctions that it wants to be lifted and for the nuclear limits it is prepared to resume in return for the U.S. sanctions relief.
"My understanding from the latest news reporting is that [Iran's proposals] have been maximalist demands that are unworkable for the United States," Jason Brodsky, policy director of U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, said in a VOA interview.
Brodsky said Iran could accept IAEA demands to restore U.N. inspectors' access to cameras at a centrifuge workshop in Karaj, after blocking such access for months.
"It would be a token concession to keep the process going," he said.
Some information in this report came from Agence France-Presse and Reuters.