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Iranian supreme leader’s aide suggests pursuing 90% enrichment

In a letter to Iran’s supreme leader, the hard-line former chief negotiator reportedly proposed ramping up enrichment to 90%.
Iran's former top nuclear negotiator and former presidential candidate Saeed Jalili talks to the media after registering his candidacy for the June presidential elections, at the Interior Ministry in the capital Tehran, on May 15, 2021.

Hard-line Iranian politician Saeed Jalili, who led his country’s nuclear negotiations with world powers from 2007 to 2013, has reportedly called for uranium enrichment at a 90% purity rate in Iran’s nuclear program.

In a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the former chief negotiator is said to have expressed unease with the trajectory of the talks over the revival of the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which are taking place in Vienna.

Jalili’s letter has yet to be made public, but details were released Feb. 1 by an “informed source” interviewed by Reformist daily Shargh.   

The UN nuclear watchdog confirmed in September that Iran’s enrichment has been pushed to the 60% level, a significant departure from the JCPOA, which placed a 3.67% constraint on Tehran’s enrichment activities.

The news has world powers on edge, as nuclear weapons could technically be developed at Jalili's proposed purity rate.

In his letter, Khamenei’s close aide called for Iran to walk away from the ongoing talks in Vienna, where it has been in a tug-of-war with Western signatories over resurrecting the JCPOA.

Iran’s pull-out, the politician has argued, would serve it well and from a legal standpoint, give the Western sides a hard time. Under his plan, the Western signatories would take its case to the UN Security Council, where it would be vetoed by Tehran’s allies China and Russia.

Once the move puts Iran officially out of the JCPOA, the Islamic Republic would have the upper hand and return to the negotiating table to draw concessions from the United States on sanctions relief.

During a weekly briefing on Monday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh addressed the letter in vague terms. “What I can say is that the we have reached a national consensus with regard to the Vienna talks and will optimize domestic capacities to drive the negotiations forward.”

Jalili expressed opposition to the nuclear deal when it was clinched in 2015 by his rivals in the centrist administration of former President Hassan Rouhani and is maintaining his position even as his fellow hard-liners have taken the helm. The talks are being led by Ali Bagheri Kani, a trusted aide and deputy of Jalili when the latter was Iran’s top nuclear negotiator in six-year long marathon talks marked by deadlocks and one-man press conferences.

Jalili has for years served as a close ally of Khamenei and currently represents him in Iran’s powerful Supreme National Security Council.

Since the JCPOA’s implementation and its perceived failure to materialize Iran’s much-needed sanctions relief, Khamenei has repeatedly taken an “I-told-you-so” position against the former negotiators.

In his latest stance, however, he did not rule out direct talks with “the enemy.” The message from the man who maintains the final say over Iran’s foreign policy has been read as a green light to press ahead with salvaging the JCPOA, putting Jalili’s advice on the back burner.

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