Nuclear “Breakout Time” For Iran Shrinks, Concerns Over Negotiations Grow

Following the negotiations set up between the United States and Iran earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reported this week he was unsure if Tehran was willing to comply again. Within the 2015 nuclear deal, Tehran agreed to reduce its nuclear development and make it harder to obtain fissile materials in exchange for relief and lifted sanctions from the U.S., European Union, and United Nations.

According to Reuters, Blinken released a statement this week regarding the negotiations to rejoin the deal stating, “[I]t remains unclear whether Iran is willing and prepared to do what it needs to do come back into compliance… Meanwhile, its program is galloping forward.” There have been five rounds of talks between the two, with the fifth ending on 2 June.

Diplomats representing both parties said there may be a sixth negotiation round beginning on Thursday, but nothing is deadset. Originally, the U.S. abandoned peaceful negotiations with Tehran in 2018, which prompted Iran to begin violating the terms of the agreement only a year later. Time is on neither side in this situation, as Iran is set to elect a new president on June 18, just a week after the sixth round of discussions begins. This leaves the parties a maximum of eight days to reach a consensus. Diplomats are expecting a more traditional leader to be elected, triggering concerns of Iran backing out of negotiations.

Another concern that has arisen is the talks are going through the third-party EU Joint Commission, which is brokering the discussion between Iranian representatives and the U.S. delegates who are both in respective hotel basements. Iran has made it clear it will not hold direct discussions with Washington. To combat the deal’s uneasy revival, Abbas Araqchi who is Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, said on Iranian state TV that “[our] differences have reached a point where everyone believes these differences are not insolvable.”

In Washington, Jalina Porter who is a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said earlier this week that U.S. chief negotiator, Rob Malley, would be returning soon and that he had suggested the talks were moving slowly. In Porter’s statement to the press, she was clear on the process of these negotiations being long and hard.

On Tuesday, Iran released a statement saying the opposite, that the negotiations were going well and headway was being made. This may have been a political move by Iran to appear stable, as the presidential election looms only three weeks away. The major concern for the U.S. is the time constraint surrounding the election.

Many diplomats agree that while a deal is possible in the last few weeks, as time continues it becomes increasingly unlikely. The future of the nuclear arena is rather dependent upon these negotiations as if they were to fail, Iran would continue to build up its nuclear capabilities and stockpile at an alarming pace. Iran’s “breakout time”, or the time it takes a program to amass enough material for one weapon, is on the verge of shrinking to weeks instead of months.

If Iran continues to operate their nuclear program at its current rate, the breakout time will be down to a few weeks very shortly. The U.S. fears that if Iran’s compliance continues to dwindle and their negotiations fall short that it could trigger a more serious response, and in turn cause heightened tensions between two already-at-odds countries. As the week comes to a close with the Iranian presidential election only days away, diplomats and spokespeople from both parties are working toward the peaceful solution of re-joining the 2015 nuclear deal.