The return to the 2015 nuclear deal continues to drag on. As the months go by, it seems that the US and Iran are further and further away from reaching a common ground that satisfies both sides and allows them to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The Vienna talks that began last April aimed at returning to the 2015 nuclear pact, all the signatory countries - Russia, China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom - with the exception of the United States, which withdrew in 2018, have already held six rounds of negotiations.
In parallel to the Vienna talks, US and Iranian delegations are holding informal talks on the nuclear deal. Since April, little progress has been made, with Washington and Tehran's mistrust of each other proving a difficult obstacle to overcome. Likewise, neither country is willing to take the first step, which is why the negotiations are at a standstill despite the optimism that the signatories of the pact are trying to show. The US and Iran agree on only one thing: the complexity of reaching an agreement to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
Former US president Donald Trump decided to unilaterally pull out of the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimpose economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic, opting for a "policy of suffocation". Iran, on the other hand, has been gradually skipping the nuclear pact, enriching uranium up to 60%, while the pact provided for uranium enrichment up to a maximum of 3.67%.
The Persian country has also threatened on more than one occasion to limit inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In fact, last April, Iran reached an agreement with the IAEA for 90 days, which was extended for another month in May, to guarantee inspection of the Iranian nuclear programme through surveillance cameras. This agreement expired on 24 June and since then no new agreement has been reached. The Islamic Republic has stressed that the interim, bilateral agreement with the UN nuclear agency on inspections "should not be considered an obligation" for Iran, which is committed only to comply with the controls.
In recent months Iran has been more steadily skirting the nuclear deal as a means of pressuring the US to lift economic sanctions on the Persian country, but so far the US seems unwilling to budge. Iran has gone a step further and informed the IAEA that it has begun the process of producing enriched uranium metal.
Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said the first silicon fuel plate will soon be produced using 20 per cent enriched uranium for medical purposes. "This move, which will significantly improve the quality and quantity of radiopharmaceuticals, will make the Islamic Republic one of the advanced countries in nuclear technology," he said.
France, Germany and the UK have expressed "grave concern" at the news, as uranium metal could also be used to make the core of a nuclear bomb. The British, French and German foreign ministers said in a joint statement that "Iran has no credible civilian need for the R&D and production of uranium metal, which is a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon". "With its latest steps, Iran is threatening the success of the Vienna talks, despite the progress made in six rounds of negotiations," they added.
The US has also reacted to this development. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said he was concerned about Iran's decision to "escalate its non-compliance with its [nuclear deal] commitments, especially with experiments that have nuclear weapons research value". "It is another unfortunate step backwards for Iran, particularly when we, for our part, have demonstrated our sincere intention and willingness to return to the agreement."
Iran and the United States are once again at loggerheads over the dissipating nuclear deal. Pending a seventh round of talks in Vienna, all hopes are pinned on a deal being reached before August, when Iran's newly elected ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi is due to be sworn in.