Iran and the United States have been in informal negotiations for months on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the nuclear deal. The Biden administration is thus disassociating itself from the "maximum pressure" policy pursued by former US president Donald Trump. Despite the efforts of the American and Iranian delegations, a return to the pact seems to be a long time coming.
Mistrust is the main problem for a definitive return to the nuclear pact. Iran is asking the United States to take the first step, since it was the US that unilaterally decided to leave the pact in 2018, and is demanding an end to economic sanctions. For its part, the United States remains wary of Tehran's intentions. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Iran of a lack of transparency, after the latest UN reports revealed traces of enriched uranium in several unreported areas of its atomic programme.
The Vienna Talks are expected to resume in the coming days against the backdrop of elections in Iran and a deadlock in negotiations between the two countries. But the talks face new obstacles, as Fox News has reported new satellite images showing unusual activity in Sanjarian, a small town outside Tehran.
The images, taken by Maxar Technologies and analysed by the private Israeli intelligence laboratory The Intel Lab and the Washington DC-based Institute for Science and International Security, show trucks and earthworks in this town that has been exposed in the past as a suspected site for the manufacture of "shockwave generators", key components in the miniaturisation of nuclear weapons.
The Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, had already warned of these 'suspicious activities' in Sanjarian thanks to the nuclear archive it had stolen from Iran during an operation in 2018. These files would reveal the area's role in Plan Amad, the nuclear weapons programme that Iran halted in 2003 but which Israel claims continues in secret, to carry out a large number of experiments with shockwave generators and explosive bridges.
Images shown by Fox News reveal 18 vehicles at the site on 15 October 2020, as well as excavations and more vehicles in January. Apparently, according to the network, the site was covered in March, and all that is currently visible are trenches and swirls of excavation. Israel and the US suspect that Sanjarian may have been reopened in October 2020 for the manufacture of key components for Iran's nuclear programme.
This information is made public at a key moment for negotiations between the United States and Iran, and even more so after the latest nuclear reports by the UN showed the existence of enriched uranium in areas that would not be part of its nuclear programme. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in response to these reports, has stated that the US does not know whether "Iran is willing and ready to do whatever is necessary to respect the agreement again", and has already stated that sanctions against the Persian country will remain in place.
Biden's executive has not yet made any reference to these new images revealing new nuclear sites by Tehran, but it is likely that these latest developments will make the next round of negotiations even more difficult.