U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Iran on December 2 there was still time to return to compliance with its nuclear deal with world powers despite its latest rhetoric.
"I have to tell you, recent moves, recent rhetoric, don't give us a lot of cause for optimism," Blinken said. "But even though the hour is getting very late, it is not too late for Iran to reverse course," he added.
Blinken, speaking to reporters in Stockholm after a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said the international community will however find out in "the very near future" whether Iran intends to engage in good faith in talks to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement.
The accord officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which Iran signed with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China, imposed curbs on the Islamic republic's nuclear activities in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.
But ever since then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018 and started reimposing hard-hitting sanctions, Iran has gradually breached limits imposed by the pact.
President Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the deal if Iran returns to full compliance, but Tehran wants Washington to make the first move.
Blinken said he discussed Iran in meetings with his counterparts from Russia and Israel on December 2.
Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov "noted the importance of continued coordination...when it comes to blocking Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a separate statement.
Tehran said on December 2 that a deal to salvage the JCPOA is within reach even as the UN's atomic watchdog said the country further violated the accord by starting to produce enriched uranium with more efficient centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility.
Iran's chief negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Khani, said on December 2 his team had handed two drafts on the removal of sanctions and nuclear commitments to the negotiating group representing France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China as the two sides look to make progress on day four of indirect talks aimed at bringing Iran and the United States fully back into the agreement.
However, a December 1 announcement by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) appeared to undercut the talks that resumed this week after a five-month recess.
The IAEA said in a report that Iran had started the process of enriching uranium to up to 20 percent purity with a cascade of 166 advanced IR-6 machines at its Fordow fuel-enrichment plant, 135 kilometers from Tehran.
Until now, Iran had been producing enriched uranium at Fordow with first-generation IR-1 machines. The 2015 nuclear deal does not allow Iran to enrich uranium there at all.
According to the IAEA report, cited by Reuters, the nuclear watchdog "has decided and Iran has agreed to increase the frequency of verification activities at [Fordow] and will continue consultations with Iran on practical arrangements to facilitate implementation of these activities."