Iranian officials are reporting little progress with negotiators representing the European sides to the nuclear deal, as the Sept. 6 deadline set by Tehran looms large. Iran has already warned that if the ongoing talks bear no fruit, it will suspend more commitments it has honored since 2015 under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
President Hassan Rouhani, whose government has been scrambling to salvage the accord after the United States abandoned it last May, said the new measures will be "extremely important." Addressing a Cabinet meeting in Tehran Sept. 4, Rouhani warned that the "third step" will see the Iranian nuclear program proceed with an "extraordinary accelerated" pace.
In the first two steps, the Islamic Republic dropped two key commitments in a phased process by augmenting its uranium stockpile and upgrading its restricted enrichment program beyond the limit imposed by the JCPOA.
As for talks with Europeans, Rouhani sounded pessimistic: "We are not yet at the final stage, and I don’t believe we will get there today or tomorrow." Still, he added without elaborating that progress has been achieved over some important issues.
Iran's man in the latest round of those talks is Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. He is now in Slovenia to bargain with the Europeans over the details of a French initiative that offers Iran a $15 billion credit line for a period of four months. Within that package, Iran will secure its entire oil revenues in exchange for a normal adherence to its nuclear deal commitments.
"The Islamic Republic will fully resume its JCPOA compliance only if it is allowed to sell its oil and gain full access to the income with no limitations," Araghchi said. The Iranian diplomat also pointed out "serious differences" in the talks. However, government spokesman Ali Rabiee told reporters that the negotiations have already resolved 16 out of 19 agenda points. He suggested that what is left before a final settlement over the French proposal is US approval.
French officials have been in close contact with the White House to try to get the American side onboard. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire sat down with US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Washington Sept. 3 in what Iranians described as another push to win the US government's consent.
But the relentless opponents of rapprochement with Washington have been casting serious doubts over intentions pursued by the European sides. Ultraconservative daily Javan — an advocate of a full withdrawal of the Islamic Republic from the JCPOA — called the ongoing talks "fragile." According to the paper, the proposal that Iran be permitted to sell a certain amount of oil under the potential deal could be a plot that aims to "make Iran think twice" about more new nuclear deal breaches and abort plans for enrichment at the 20% level.
In another development, Iran reacted to a report by the Dutch daily de Volkskrant, which revealed that an agent hired by the Netherlands' intelligence organization played the leading role in planting the notorious Stuxnet virus in computers operating Iran's Natanz enrichment facility back in 2007. Tehran has since implicated Tel Aviv and Washington in the spread of the malware that was believed to have tremendously slowed down Iran's nuclear know-how. Iranian authorities are now investigating possible "sabotage" by the Dutch intelligence apparatus. In a reserved response, the country's Foreign Ministry expressed its "concern" with the Netherlands' Embassy in Tehran as well as a senior Dutch diplomat who was on a scheduled visit to the Iranian capital.
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