Iranian President Hassan Rohani oversaw the launch of a production line of advanced centrifuges on April 10 in an apparent new violation of the 2015 nuclear deal after talks began earlier this week in Vienna aimed at bringing the United States and Iran back into full compliance with the accord.
Rohani was seen in a live state TV broadcast at the Natanz nuclear plant ordering the injection of uranium gas into the centrifuges and mechanical tests on its newest advanced nuclear centrifuge.
The ceremony marked National Nuclear Technology Day and unveiled what state television claimed were 133 advances over the past year in the country's nuclear industry, mostly in the fields of medicine, power, agricultural, and energy.
“Once again, I stress that all our nuclear activities are peaceful and for non-military purposes,” Rohani said. “We continue to be committed to our pledge to NPT (nonproliferation treaty) and to the world not to deviate militarily from our nuclear program,” he added.
Although Tehran says it nuclear program is for civilian purposes, there have long been concerns in the international community that the country is inching ever closer to producing enough fissile material for an atomic bomb.
The April 10 broadcast showed no images of the injection of uranium hexafluoride gas but showed a link with engineers at the plant who said they had started the process.
The centrifuges that were reportedly activated on April 10 allow uranium to be enriched more quickly and in greater amounts than Iran's first-generation centrifuges, which are the only ones that the 2015 deal allows it to use.
Iran has breached many restrictions imposed by the deal since former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from it in 2018.
'Good Start' To Vienna Talks
The talks in Vienna are aimed at restoring restrictions on Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and other international sanctions.
All sides said the talks, in which Washington is not participating directly but has the European Union as an intermediary, had got off to a good start.
Two working groups have been formed to hammer out a compromise, which if reached could still be weeks away. One expert group is focused on how to lift U.S. sanctions to bring Washington back into compliance with the accord. Another group is tasked with detailing a path for Iran to comply with restrictions on its nuclear program, including limits on uranium enrichment and centrifuges.
An EU statement after the last session on April 9 said the so-called Joint Commission on JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) had been "briefed on the work of the two expert groups on sanctions lifting and nuclear implementation measures and participants noted the constructive and results oriented exchanges."
It said "the participants emphasized their resolve to further pursue the ongoing joint diplomatic effort" and that a coordinator under EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell "will continue his separate contacts with all JCPOA participants and the United States."
In addition to reimposing nuclear-related sanctions, the Trump administration slapped a web of sanctions on Tehran over a range of issues such as terrorism, human rights, and ballistic missiles. They include sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a part of Iran’s armed forces that the Trump administration labeled a terrorist organization.
Briefing reporters after talks wrapped up on April 9, a senior State Department official said the initial talks were encouraging but that the United States would not meet Iranian demands to lift all sanctions.
"If Iran sticks to the position that every sanction that has been imposed since 2017 has to be lifted or there will be no deal, then we are heading towards an impasse," the senior U.S. official told reporters on a conference call.
The official said the Trump administration’s sanction policy on Iran had a “purposeful and self-avowed intent to make it difficult for any future administration” to return to the nuclear deal.