Within a mere months ago there were high hopes that Iran and global signatories to the 2015 JCPOA were wrapping up a restored nuclear deal. There was even talk that a finalized agreement was 'imminent' – but now just weeks after some of these optimistic headlines at a moment Washington scrambles to tap more global oil supply amid efforts to punish Russia with Europe's partial oil embargo, a 'fatal blow' may have been struck.
At the moment, Iran and the West appear more distrustful of each other than ever, and the Vienna process is already appearing like a distant memory, with Iran's foreign ministry now affirming that the Islamic Republic has significantly furthered measures in breach of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal.
Last week Iran removed at least 27 monitoring cameras at nuclear facilities, according to recent statements by IAEA chief Rafael Grossi. The UN nuclear watchdog chief warned this could deliver a "fatal blow" to efforts at reviving the JCPOA. Additionally Iran announced plans to add more centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility, south of Tehran.
There's consensus among Iran watchers in the West that the country currently has enriched enough uranium of to 60% purity to be able to shortly bring it up to weapons-grade levels of 90% if Tehran chose to do so. 90% purity must be attained to produce a nuclear weapon. Experts say Iran likely is close enough to produce one bomb in a short time frame if it set out.
Despite these developments, Iran says it has not given up, with a fresh Monday statement from its foreign ministry emphasizing all measures it's thus far taken to roll back commitments based on the original deal are "reversible".
"If the agreement is finalized in Vienna tomorrow, all the measures carried out by Iran are technically reversible," foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said as cited in AFP.
It appears Tehran is attempting to push back against the IAEA's rhetoric of a "fatal blow" in shutting off the cameras. The argument of Iranian officials, however, remains that the cameras in question were never part of its original commitments:
Iran "is fully honoring its commitments under the safeguards agreement," Khatibzadeh said, adding that the country has only "stopped some of the voluntary measures."
Some 40 IAEA monitoring cameras are reported still in place across various sensitive facilities.
Addressing what Iran has seen as Washington's waffling and inability to make real compromise on final hurdles like removing the IRGC from the US terrorism list, Khatibzadeh described that on-again off-again talks in Vienna can only produce results if the United States "puts aside the delusion of using leverage" and "accepts to fully meet its commitments under the JCPOA and UN resolution 2231."
“What we are focusing on is that this agreement becomes operational and is signed, and this is possible if the US changes its approach and manner," he stressed. "Unfortunately the US is extending the talks and wants to resolve some bilateral issues through the Vienna negotiations, which is impossible."