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US rejects linking of deal and IAEA probes of suspect sites

Despite setback in talks, Israel still believes Iran deal likely in weeks — report

Washington sees negotiated agreement as only solution to Iran’s nuclear program, as Jerusalem presses White House to prepare a military option, report says

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (R) attends a press conference with Josep Borell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (L), at the foreign ministry headquarters in Iran's capital Tehran on June 25, 2022. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (R) attends a press conference with Josep Borell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (L), at the foreign ministry headquarters in Iran's capital Tehran on June 25, 2022. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Israel reportedly believes the US and Iran are still within weeks of reviving a nuclear deal, despite Washington saying Tehran’s latest response in negotiations was “not constructive.”

The Israeli assessment is contained in a non-public report compiled by the Foreign Ministry’s political research department, Channel 12 said on Friday.

“The American administration continues to see the agreement as the only way to deal with the Iranian nuclear program,” the report said, according to Channel 12.

The Foreign Ministry report said the US and Iran are more realistic about one another’s positions than before and are both working to boost political support for a deal ahead of a final agreement, according to Channel 12.

The US calling Iran’s response to a draft agreement “not constructive” on Thursday was the latest in a back and forth between the adversaries via mediators from the European Union.

The EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Wednesday said he hoped for a resolution within days to revive the 2015 nuclear accord known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Iranian deputy foreign minister Reza Najafi, left, and Iranian AEOI spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi, seen leaving the Palais Coburg where closed-door nuclear talks took place in Vienna, Austria, August 5, 2022. (AP/Florian Schroetter)

On August 8, the EU put forward what it called a final text. Iran proposed changes to it — largely accepted by the Europeans — to which the US issued a response through the mediators.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said Friday that Tehran sent another response, according to Iranian state news agency IRNA. Kanaani called the Iranian proposal “constructive” and expressed hopes that a deal would be finalized.

Later in the day, White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement that the US was still “studying the [Iranian] response and coordinating with our E3 allies.”

“Some gaps have closed in recent weeks but others remain,” she said in a statement to The Times of Israel. “The President will only conclude a deal that he determines is in the national security interest of the United States.”

Channel 13 on Friday quoted an unnamed Israeli official who said Iran’s response had dragged the sides backward and further away from an agreement. The official said Jerusalem will continue its efforts to influence the talks in any way possible.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks on the anniversary of the death of the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, shown in the poster at top center, June 4, 2022. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Also on Friday, a senior European official directly involved in nuclear talks told the Walla news site that Iran had sought to reopen talks on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigations into Iranian nuclear activity. The US and the IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, both oppose restarting negotiations on the issue.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a Friday briefing that “there should not be any conditionality between the implementation of the JCPOA and [IAEA] investigations related to Iran’s legal obligations.”

She said the IAEA’s cases against Iran should only be closed if the UN agency finds its concerns have been addressed by Iran.

“The Iranian response was totally unreasonable. It reopens the EU coordinator’s text on nuclear safeguards, which was at the outer limits of our flexibility already, and which the Iranians implicitly accepted in their August 15 response,” the European official told Walla. “The Iranian response can only be read as them not wanting to close this deal when we were so close, for the first time in 18 months.”

“With this opportunity squandered, it is now hard to imagine that a deal can happen before the [US] midterms,” Ali Vaez, a top analyst with the International Crisis Group told POLITICO.

During their phone call earlier this week, Prime Minister Yair Lapid urged US President Joe Biden to prepare a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program, telling him that “only a credible US military plan will ensure the Iranians don’t try to cheat” if a nuclear deal is revived, Channel 12 reported.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks via phone to US President Joe Biden on August 31, 2022. (Courtesy)

Israel has long pushed the US to prepare a military option, and Biden said in July that he would be prepared to use force if necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Iran’s nuclear program is believed to be too advanced to be taken out with one strike and it is unclear the extent of damage a military attack would be able to incur.

During the call with Lapid, Biden reiterated his commitment to keeping Israel in the loop regarding the nuclear talks and assured Lapid there would be no surprises as Jerusalem felt there were during the Obama administration.

Mossad chief David Barnea will be heading to Washington next week where he will be briefing the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Israel’s position and intelligence regarding Iran, Channel 12 said.

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