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Bennett calls for ‘rapid international action’ against Iran’s enrichment surge

Appearing to disparage US effort to revive nuclear deal, PM says ‘naive expectation that Iran will change path via negotiations has proven baseless’

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Friday called on the international community to act immediately against Iran, after the United Nations nuclear watchdog reported that the Islamic Republic has dramatically increased its production of highly enriched uranium in recent months and is not allowing full inspection of its activities.

“Israel views with utmost gravity the picture of the situation reflected in the [International Atomic Energy Agency] report, which proves that Iran is continuing to lie to the world and advance a program to develop nuclear weapons while denying its international commitments,” Bennett said in a statement.

“I call for an appropriate and rapid international reaction to the severe actions of Iran. The IAEA report warns that the time to act is now,” he continued.

The premier then appeared to knock a key argument made by proponents of the Iran nuclear deal, which offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

“The naive expectation that Iran will be prepared to change its path via negotiations has been proven to be baseless,” Bennett said. “Only a vigorous stand by the international community, backed up by decisions and actions, will be able to lead to a change by the regime in Tehran, which has lost all restraint.

“Israel will do everything to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons,” he added.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, second right, listens to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi while visiting an exhibition of Iran’s new nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran, April 10, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The IAEA report published Tuesday revealed that Tehran has quadrupled its stockpile of 60 percent-enriched uranium since May, in open contravention of the 2015 accord with world powers that was meant to contain its nuclear program.

The watchdog also told member states in its confidential quarterly report that its verification and monitoring activities have been “seriously undermined” since February by Iran’s refusal to let inspectors access IAEA monitoring equipment.

The agency said that it estimates Iran’s stock of uranium enriched to up to 60% fissile purity at 10 kilograms, an increase of 7.6 kilograms since May. The country’s stockpile of uranium enriched to up to 20% fissile purity is now estimated at 84.3 kilograms, up from 62.8 kilograms three months earlier.

Iran’s total stock of uranium is estimated at 2441.3 kilograms as of August 30, down from 3241 kilograms on May 22, the agency said.

Tehran is only permitted to stockpile 202.8 kilograms of uranium under the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, which promises Iran economic incentives in exchange for limits on its nuclear program, and is meant to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.

The Vienna-based agency warned members that its confidence in properly assessing Iran’s activities — what it called the “continuity of knowledge” — was declining over time and that would continue “unless the situation is immediately rectified by Iran.”

US President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on August 27, 2021. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

The IAEA said that certain monitoring and surveillance equipment cannot be left for more than three months without being serviced. It was provided with access this month to four surveillance cameras installed at one site, but one of the cameras had been destroyed and a second had been severely damaged, the agency said.

IAEA director-general, Rafael Mariano Grossis, said that he was willing to travel to Iran to meet the recently elected government for talks.

The United States unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear deal in 2018 under then-US president Donald Trump, but Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia have tried to preserve the accord.

Tehran’s strategy of deliberately violating the deal is seen as an attempt to put pressure, particularly on Europe, to provide it with incentives to offset crippling American sanctions re-imposed after the US pullout from the deal.

US President Joe Biden has said that he is open to rejoining the pact. The last round of talks in Vienna ended in June without a clear result.

Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly opposed the 2015 deal, which it said would pave the way to an Iranian nuclear arsenal, and publicly urged Biden to reenter the deal.

Meeting with Biden at the White House last month, Bennett warned of the “nightmare” of a radical Islamic regime attaining nuclear weapons, and Biden publicly vowed that the US would “never” allow Iran to attain the bomb.

Israel has “greatly accelerated” preparations for action against Iran’s nuclear program, military chief Aviv Kohavi said in an interview published Monday.

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