PM: Iran deserves no rewards in return for its brutality

As Iran talks begin, Bennett urges world powers: Resist regime’s ‘nuclear blackmail’

Pleading with negotiators in Vienna, premier warns: If Iranians get their way and sanctions are lifted, they won’t just keep their nuclear program, ‘they’ll be getting paid for it’

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks from his Jerusalem office in a video statement addressed to world powers at the opening of renewed nuclear talks with Iran, November 29, 2021. (Screenshot: Twitter)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks from his Jerusalem office in a video statement addressed to world powers at the opening of renewed nuclear talks with Iran, November 29, 2021. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged world powers Monday not to “give in to Iran’s nuclear blackmail,” as negotiators from Iran and world powers gathered in Vienna to resume talks aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal.

In a video statement delivered to representatives of the nations opening the negotiations with Iran, Bennett said Tehran is seeking “to end sanctions in exchange for almost nothing” and keep its nuclear program intact while receiving hundreds of billions of dollars once sanctions are lifted.

If the world powers capitulate, “Iran won’t just keep its nuclear program; from today, they’ll be getting paid for it,” Bennett warned.

The prime minister highlighted Iranian leaders’ oft-repeated desire to see Israel destroyed. “Iran doesn’t hide its intentions,” he added. “Just a couple of days ago, the senior command of Iran’s Armed Forces declared, and I quote, ‘We will not back off from the annihilation of Israel, not even one millimeter.'”

“There are those who think they deserve to have their sanctions removed, and hundreds of billions of dollars poured right into their rotten regime. They’re wrong,” said Bennett.

“Iran deserves no rewards, no bargain deals and no sanctions relief in return for their brutality. I call upon our allies around the world: Do not give in to Iran’s nuclear blackmail.”

In his own comments on Monday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Israel “does not oppose talks — but we can’t allow deceptions.”

“We don’t ignore the international and regional need to reach a solution with the Iranians, but we can’t absolve ourselves as the strong and independent State of Israel from putting up our own solutions to defend ourselves on our own if we decide that is what we must do,” Gantz said at a ground-breaking ceremony for a new Military Intelligence base in the Negev desert.

The defense minister said that Israeli defense officials are sharing intelligence with allies “indicating Iran is continuing to rush toward a nuclear” program ahead of the resumption of the nuclear talks. He called on world powers to exact a “price” from Iran for its continued uranium enrichment in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal.

“There needs to be a price that is expressed in economic sanctions and military activities so that the Iranians halt their nuclear race and their regional aggression,” Gantz added.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani arrives at the Coburg Palais, the venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting, in Vienna on November 29, 2021. (VLADIMIR SIMICEK / AFP)

Iran has ramped up its uranium enrichment since the United States withdrew from the landmark nuclear agreement between world powers and Tehran in 2018.

Israel vocally opposed that agreement, and Israeli officials now say Iran is closer than ever to developing nuclear arms, which it will not abide. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is visiting London and Paris to discuss Iran with British and French officials. Gantz will head to Washington this week with the same aim.

Israel is reportedly pressing parties to the Vienna discussions to condition them on Tehran’s cessation of uranium enrichment.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. It has blamed the breakdown of the agreement on the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from it and restore crippling sanctions.

Earlier Monday, in London, Lapid argued that Tehran had no intention of stopping its nuclear program.

“The Iranians are coming to these talks for only one reason — to get sanctions lifted,” Lapid said after signing a memorandum of understanding with his British counterpart, Liz Truss, in London. “They need money. For Hezbollah, for the Revolutionary Guards, for their global terrorist network, and for their continued race towards a nuclear weapon.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) signs an MOU with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss at the Foreign Office, in London, November 29, 2021 (Stuart Mitchell/ GPO)

Israel’s top diplomat posited that Tehran’s strategy in Vienna is to “play for time, earn billions from the removal of sanctions, continue to deceive the world, and covertly advance their nuclear program.”

Lapid called for tighter sanctions on Iran, tighter supervision of nuclear sites, and for talks with Iran to be “conducted from a position of strength.”

Israeli officials have been increasingly sounding the alarm over Iran’s nuclear program and the negotiations in recent weeks, with Jerusalem believing the 2015 deal is far too weak and ultimately paves the way to an Iranian nuclear weapon.

The deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, was intended to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear arsenal by imposing strict limits on its nuclear program. It was signed between Iran and the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany.

In 2018 then-US president Donald Trump pulled out of the pact, reapplying stiff sanctions on Iran, which in response dropped some of its own commitments to the pact and significantly increased its uranium enrichment, raising concerns it is nearing nuclear weapons capabilities.

According to the latest report from the UN nuclear watchdog, Iran has now amassed a stockpile of 2,490 kilograms of uranium. The total amount now includes 114 kilograms enriched to 20 percent, as well as 18 kilograms enriched up to 60%. Both are short technical steps away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

Some experts estimate it would take the Iranians three to four weeks to enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapon. They would still have to build a detonator and a delivery system, which could take up to two years.

The Biden administration has been seeking a return to the 2015 deal. But Iran has sparred with the UN’s nuclear agency and the US has voiced growing skepticism that a return to the deal will be possible amid Tehran’s intensifying violations.

AFP contributed to this report.

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