Iran’s Zarif Warns Nuclear Talks May Be Derailed on Centrifuges

A dispute over Iran’s number of centrifuges and over the potential speed in which the Persian Gulf country can produce a nuclear weapon may derail talks between the Islamic Republic and world powers.

“A serious scrutiny of the myth of breakout may prevent it from derailing the nuclear negotiations,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a Twitter message today.

Zarif also highlighted an Iranian report that estimates that the country’s breakout capability, the time it takes to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon, is 36 months. This is considerably longer than the two months suggested by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at a Congressional hearing last April.

The next round of nuclear talks between Iran and P5+1, made up of China, France, Russia, the U.K., the U.S. and Germany, is due to start on June 16 in Vienna. The dispute over the number of centrifuges, which produce enriched uranium that can be used in nuclear reactors and for medical purposes as well as in a nuclear weapon, is shaping up to be one of the key stumbling points.

Iranian officials have spoken of their desire to expand their enrichment capacity to 50,000 centrifuges, compared with the 19,000 currently installed, of which about 10,000 are currently operating. Western powers want to limit Iran to a much lower number.

Talks between Iran and world powers have “hit a wall,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius yesterday as Iranian and U.S. diplomats concluded two days of bilateral meetings to narrow some of their differences.

“We are still hitting a wall on one absolutely fundamental point which is the number of centrifuges which allow enrichment,” Fabius said in a radio interview. “We say that there can be a few hundred centrifuges, but the Iranians want thousands so we’re not in the same framework.”

Iranian diplomats met with their French counterparts in Geneva today before flying to Rome to meet with Russian negotiators.

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