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Rouhani Defiant After G7 Statement, Says Iran Nuclear Program Can Expand

Iran struck a defiant tone Monday over talks in Vienna with world powers over its nuclear program, as President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran was ready “on any day, at any hour” to increase uranium enrichment beyond the current level of 63 percent. Speaking at a defense project inauguration, Rouhani offered a “direct message of the Islamic Republic [of Iran]” that the “United States and other JCPOA countries should carry out their obligations without any exception, immediately.”

Talks in Vienna have been in play since early April aiming to revive the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Former US president Donald Trump abandoned the agreement in 2018 before imposing draconian sanctions on Iran and prompting Tehran since 2019 to expand its nuclear program beyond JCPOA limits, including enriching far above a 3.67-percent cap.

Rouhani stressed that Iran expected “verification,” meaning after the lifting of all sanctions incompatible with the JCPOA, before it again met its “obligations” by reversing those nuclear steps, which that have significantly reduced the time it would take Iran to make an atomic weapon, an aim it denies.

Talks in Vienna formally involve remaining JCPOA signatories – China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and the United Kingdom – and indirectly a US delegation also in the Austrian capital. While all parties are committed to restoring the 2015 nuclear deal, there are differences over which sanctions the US would be required to lift and how Iran’s more sophisticated nuclear program can be reset on 2015 limits.

While Russia and China have tended to highlight the need for the US to withdraw sanctions, closer relations between Europe and the US administration of President Joe Biden, replacing the frostiness of the Trump administration, were illustrated in a paragraph on Iran in the closing communique of the G7 following its meeting in England June 11-13.

The G7 communique stressed support for the Vienna talks and the “goal of restoring the nonproliferation benefits of the JCPOA and of ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature” of Iran’s nuclear program. The statement called on Tehran to restore “full and timely cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency,” which Iran curtailed after November’s killing of its nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Regional Concerns

The communique stated that a restored JCPOA “could also pave the way to further address regional and security concerns,” reflecting the Biden administration’s commitment to a ‘follow-on’ agreement or series of agreements. Some reports suggest the US delegation in Vienna has tried to secure, as part of the talks, prior Iranian agreement to this.

The communique condemned Iran’s “support to proxy forces and non-state armed actors, including through financing, training and the proliferation of missile technology and weapons.” It called on Tehran “to stop all ballistic missile activities and proliferation inconsistent with UNSCR 2231 and other relevant resolutions…”

This last point refers to a clause in United Nations Security Resolution 2231, endorsing the JCPOA, which banned Iran from work on “ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” The deliberately vague wording is subject to varying interpretations.

In a reference to the G7 communique, Saeed Khatibzadeh, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, referred in his weekly briefing Monday to “interference” and said that “nothing” in 2231 referred to Iran’s missile program.

As well as expressing “deep concern over the continued human rights violations and abuses in Iran” the G7 statement expressed support for “efforts to pursue transparency, accountability and justice for the victims of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, shot down by Iran in January 2020.” Canada – which lost 85 citizens and permanent residents in the disaster when Iran downed a civilian airplane during heightened tension with the US – has been vociferous over the case. Ottawa is a G7 member alongside France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, and the US.

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