US urges Iran to avoid 'provocative' steps amid new uranium enrichment

US urges Iran to avoid 'provocative' steps amid new uranium enrichment
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The State Department on Tuesday urged Iran to step back from nuclear "provocations" that put it further in breach of its commitments to the Obama-era nuclear deal, which Washington and Tehran are trying to revive in ongoing discussions in Vienna.

“It is worrying that Iran is choosing to continue to escalate its non performance of its [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] commitments, especially with experiments that have value for nuclear weapons research,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a briefing with reporters, referring to the 2015 deal by its formal name.

Price was responding to an announcement by the U.N. nuclear watchdog that Iran had informed the agency it was planning on enriching uranium for nuclear reactor fuel, with the move raising the risk of Iran getting closer to being able to produce a nuclear weapon.

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The State Department spokesperson called Iran’s actions “provocative” and warned against Tehran trying to use its increased nuclear capacity for leverage in the Vienna talks.

“We have made clear that such provocative steps would not and will not provide Iran with any leverage in negotiations,” Price said. “Instead, they will only intensify our concerns with Iran's activities and we continue to urge Iran to stop this brinkmanship, to return to Vienna prepared for real talks, and to be in a position to be prepared to finish the work that we have started in April that has now taken place over six rounds.”

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) informed the Board of Governors on Tuesday that Iran notified the U.N. nuclear watchdog of its plans to use locally produced uranium enriched up to 20 percent in the manufacture of fuel for a nuclear reactor. 

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi called Iran’s activity “a multi-stage process” and that the Islamic Republic will also produce uranium metal enriched up to 20 percent.

The announcement, conveyed in a report to the Board of Directors, is part of the IAEA’s monitoring and verification in Iran related to the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Iran has breached the terms of the JCPOA since 2019 in opposition to sanctions imposed by the former Trump administration when it withdrew from the deal the previous year.

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The JCPOA, negotiated by the former Obama administration, aimed to contain Tehran’s nuclear activities and delay its pathway to a nuclear weapon, while instituting strict oversight from the U.N.'s nuclear agency.

The U.S. and Iran have participated in six indirect discussions in Vienna on a path for both countries to return to compliance with the deal, for the Biden administration to lift sanctions and for Iran to roll back its nuclear activity.

Price on Tuesday urged ongoing diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran but raised the specter that the talks in Vienna cannot continue indefinitely.

“We continue to see the diplomatic route as the best way, and the most effective way to again ensure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon,” he said.

“It will get to a point where Iran's provocations, Iran's nuclear steps, that that breakout time and the concern that we have associated with it, will potentially cause us to reconsider,” he added.