Qasemi Denies Report on Fresh Nuclear Talks

Inside the Arak heavy water production facility in central Iran.Inside the Arak heavy water production facility in central Iran.

Iran's Foreign Ministry denied a report by the Wall Street Journal that Iran and other parties to last year's nuclear deal are engaged in fresh nuclear talks to modify the terms of the landmark agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  

"No new talks between Iran and other JCPOA participants to make changes to the provisions of the deal have taken place, and the report is completely false," Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi told ANA on Friday.   

The Journal on Thursday cited western officials as saying that the US and its western allies are pressing Iran to take steps to sharply cut the amount of radioactive material it holds in a bid to shore up the nuclear deal and discourage the incoming Trump administration from abandoning it.

The discussions about reducing Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium started months ago, the officials claimed, and are among a number of measures the Obama administration has been examining to fortify the accord in its final months in office.

The officials said if agreed upon, the alleged plan could reduce the odds of a sudden flashpoint between the US and Iran over Tehran's implementation of the deal once US President-elect Donald Trump takes office, by reducing its enriched-uranium stockpile well below the cap agreed to in the 2015 accord.

Officials said the plan would also lengthen, for a while, Iran's so-called breakout time —the amount of time it would take the country to accumulate enough material for one nuclear weapon were it to quit or violate the deal— though it is unclear by how much. The constraints of the nuclear agreement are currently set up to ensure it would take Iran at least a year to produce the ingredients for a nuclear weapon.

Tehran denies the allegation that its nuclear activities may have military dimensions, stressing that the program is totally for civilian applications.  

While on the campaign trail, Trump vowed to scrap and, alternately, renegotiate the deal, and his picks to his national security team so far suggest his administration will take a hard line with Tehran.

On Wednesday, Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei threatened a response if the US extended Iranian sanctions —as House lawmakers this week voted to do— for another decade.

***New Political Context

Western officials claimed Iranian officials have engaged in serious discussions about the new plan but have not so far committed to it. In the past, Iran has proven sensitive about moves that would curtail its rights to enrich uranium under the accord. Having that right was a demand Iran made a priority in the nuclear-deal negotiations. Nonetheless, Iran has sent abroad or blended into natural uranium thousands of kilograms of enriched uranium since the July 2015 accord.

Under the deal with the US and five other governments, including Russia, Iran agreed to cap its stockpile of enriched uranium at 300 kilograms for the next 15 years. The agreement also set a cap of 130 metric tons on Iran's stockpile of heavy water, a material that can be used to cool a type of nuclear reactor which produces plutonium.

Last week, the head of the United Nations atomic agency overseeing the Iranian nuclear agreement called out Iran for exceeding the heavy-water cap for a second time this year. International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano warned that Iran could undermine confidence in the implementation of the deal if Tehran crossed key limits again.

Iran reacted swiftly and sent 11 tons of heavy water to Oman early this week, likely putting Iran below the 130-metric-ton limit for months to come, people familiar with the situation said.

The alleged plan that the US and its partners are currently discussing with Iran would take Tehran's stockpile far from the 300-kilogram limit on enriched uranium, western officials contended, ensuring that it would not exceed the cap for some time.

The officials said that in the new political context, given the uncertainties over the nuclear deal, action by Iran to ensure it significantly reduces its current enriched uranium stockpile would be a clear win-win.

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