US and European powers voice 'grave and growing concern' over Iran's nuclear acceleration

Regional diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions are praised

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi on a visit to the Bushehr nuclear plant. AFP
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Leaders of the US and three European powers have shared their “grave and growing concern” over Iran’s “provocative” acceleration of its nuclear activities.

They said Tehran’s decreased co-operation with watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is tasked with monitoring Iran’s nuclear capabilities, made the situation all the more troubling.

The US, France, Germany and the UK praised “our Gulf partners’ regional diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions”.

US President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were meeting on the sidelines of G20 talks in Rome.

The European countries are signatories to the 2015 deal that Iran also agreed with the EU, the US, China and Russia, giving Tehran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear capabilities.

In 2018 US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdraw from the accord and renewed heavy sanctions on Tehran, which in return repeatedly breached the terms of the deal.

Negotiations in Vienna, which included Iranian and US officials, about a return to the 2015 agreement have been on hold since June following Iran’s presidential election that brought Ebrahim Raisi to power.

The US and E3 expressed their concern that, despite the pause in the Vienna negotiations, Tehran “has accelerated the pace of provocative nuclear steps, such as the production of highly enriched uranium and enriched uranium metal.

“Iran has no credible civilian need for either measure, but both are important to nuclear weapons programmes,” they said.

They said that further nuclear advances and obstruction of the IAEA would jeopardise a return to the deal.

Mr Biden has said he wants to resurrect a nuclear deal, but only if Iran returns to compliance. Tehran says sanctions, which have frozen billions of dollars of payments for oil imports, must be lifted first and wants assurances they will not return.

Iran’s nuclear negotiator said on Wednesday that the Vienna talks would resume by the end of November, with a date to be announced this week. Ali Bagheri Kani was in Brussels to meet EU official Enrique Mora, who has been co-ordinating the Vienna negotiations.

Asked in Rome when he wanted the talks to resume, Mr Biden said: “They’re scheduled to resume.”

“We are convinced that it remains possible to quickly reach and implement an understanding on return to full compliance to ensure for the long term that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes, and to provide sanctions lifting with long lasting implications for Iran’s economic growth,” the E3 and US said.

“This will only be possible if Iran changes course. We call upon President Raisi to seize this opportunity and return to a good-faith effort to conclude our negotiations as a matter of urgency. That is the only sure way to avoid a dangerous escalation, which is not in any country’s interest.”

They also raised their “shared determination” to address broader security concerns stemming from Iran’s actions in the Middle East.

Updated: October 31, 2021, 7:44 AM