Iran recently announced that its negotiators are set to resume nuclear talks with global powers at Vienna, including indirectly with the US, starting Nov.29 after JCPOA nuclear deal negotiations have been stalled since last June.
But this anticipated resumption date is itself looking shaky, after on Tuesday The Wall Street Journal cited diplomats familiar with the talks who say the Islamic Republic has resumed production of advanced nuclear-program parts while ignoring the oversight of IAEA inspectors.
The WSJ writes, "The renewed work has raised concerns among Western diplomats who say it could allow Iran to start secretly diverting centrifuge parts if Tehran chose to build a covert nuclear-weapons program, although they say there is no evidence at this point that it has done so."
After initially resuming "limited" work at an assembly plan in Karaj outside Tehran in August, WSJ says, a significant number of advanced centrifuge parts have since been produced, at a moment Tehran has admitted and even boasted doubling its enriched uranium stockpiles between the start of October to the first week of November.
"We have more than 210 kilograms [about 463 pounds] of uranium enriched to 20%, and we've produced 25 kilos [about 55 pounds] at 60%, a level that no country apart from those with nuclear arms are able to produce," said Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said over a week ago.
But ironically it appears that Iran's ramped up activity at previously monitored nuclear facilities has actually been hastened by a recent spate of Israeli sabotage efforts, which have become a bit of 'an open secret' in Tehran, Tel Aviv, and increasingly acknowledged on the world stage:
"All of the recent work at Karaj has taken place without any official IAEA monitoring, the diplomats said," the WSJ notes. "Iran significantly tightened security at Karaj after the June alleged sabotage, the latest in a series of explosions at its nuclear facilities over the past two years."
So on the one hand international inspectors and Western diplomats complain of the lack of access to nuclear sites, while Iran has been forced to shutter said sites to outside observers precisely due to threat of Israeli and US sabotage attacks.
This in turn has led to the kind of "could allow" "would allow" "might allow" type of speculation featured in Western media outlets, and seen in this latest WSJ piece, for example:
According to one of the diplomats familiar with Iran’s program, Iran has installed the centrifuges whose key parts were produced at Karaj at Iran’s underground, heavily fortified, Fordow site. The diplomat said there is no evidence the centrifuges parts have been diverted elsewhere but "as the number of unmonitored centrifuges increases, the likelihood for this scenario increases."
Meanwhile, Iranian leaders seem content to allow Western leaders to believe whatever they want to believe, while at the same time maintaining its consistent position that all nuclear development is for peaceful energy purposes. After all, such fears - founded or unfounded - will only give the Iranians more leverage and negotiating strength when talks finally resume in Vienne.
But for now the question of the Nov.29 resumption date is anything but settled, also as Washington has stated clearly its patience is running out, blaming the hardline Ebrahim Raisi government for dragging its feat.