As deal looms, Lapid tells Macron Israel ‘will do everything’ to avert nuclear Iran

EU foreign policy chief says meeting on resurrecting pact could happen this week; IAEA vows not to drop demand for Iranian clarifications

Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks with French President Emanuel Macron on August 22, 2022. (Prime Minister's Office)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks with French President Emanuel Macron on August 22, 2022. (Prime Minister's Office)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Monday vowed in a conversation with French President Emanuel Macron that Israel would do whatever it takes to head off a nuclear-armed Iran, as the EU said that a meeting to finalize an agreement with Tehran might take place this week.

In a phone call with Macron, Lapid reiterated Israel’s opposition to a return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and said Western powers must not make further concessions to Tehran. He added that a return to the deal would provide Iran with significant funds to boost its support of terror activities in the region.

Israel “will continue to do everything to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities,” Lapid said, according to a readout from his office.

The prime minister also argued that the deal currently being negotiated with Tehran include “elements that go beyond the limits of the original [deal],” known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

Macron emphasized his commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, according to the readout.

With the prospect of a deal looming, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday that the UN watchdog will “absolutely not” let up on its demands that Iran provide answers on traces of undeclared nuclear material found in several sites in the country.

“Dropping probes is not something the IAEA does or will ever do,” Grossi told CNN. “We have an obligation — a legal obligation — which is to clarify many things that Iran has still to clarify… We have been trying for a long time.”

He added: “It’s very simple. Let us have an explanation: If there was nuclear material there, where is it now? If there was equipment there, where is it now? And at that moment we will be able to have a report saying ‘Yes, we have clarified this issue.’”

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks at the start of the 10th annual review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at UN headquarters on August 1, 2022, in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

Earlier, the European Union’s top diplomat said that a possible meeting on resurrecting the nuclear deal could be held “this week,” after Tehran submitted its response to an EU proposal.

“A meeting was scheduled to take place in Vienna at the end of last week, but it was not possible. It is possible that it could take place this week,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told a news conference in Santander, Spain.

Borrell said the negotiations had gone as far as they could go and “this is the inflection point.”

“There was an Iranian response that I considered reasonable to transmit to the United States,” he said.

“The United States has not formally replied yet. But we are waiting for their response and I hope that response will allow us to finish the negotiation — I hope so, but I can’t assure you of it,” added Borrell.

The other parties to the so-called JCPOA are Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a media conference after a meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti in Brussels on August 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Last week, top Israeli officials urged their counterparts in Washington and in European capitals to walk away from the negotiations, saying the EU’s “final” proposal “doesn’t even meet the demands that the Americans committed to.”

That message was reiterated by Lapid in a Thursday phone call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, according to a senior Israeli official.

US officials have meanwhile tried to reassure Israel’s leadership in recent days that a new nuclear deal is not imminent and that Washington has not agreed to any new concessions to Iran in order to reach an accord, the Walla news site reported Saturday, citing senior US officials.

“We may be closer to a deal than we were two weeks ago, but there are still uncertainties about a resolution and differences remain with the Iranians,” an unnamed US official told the site. “At any rate, the signing of a nuclear deal is not expected in the immediate timeframe.”

Jerusalem, however, did not seem soothed by the message, the report said.

The sun sets behind the Palais Coburg where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, August 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter, File)

Efforts to revive the JCPOA — the 2015 agreement between world powers and Tehran aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions — are at a critical juncture.

Earlier this month, after more than a year of talks coordinated by Borrell and his team, the EU submitted what it called a “final” text.

The document aims at fully restoring the nuclear deal by bringing the United States back into it, after then-president Donald Trump had America withdraw in 2018.

That move prompted Iran to roll back its commitments under the JCPOA and steadily enrich its stock of uranium to close to weapons-grade levels.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report. 

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