World must ‘walk away’ from Iran nuclear talks, Lapid tells Western leaders

Senior Israeli official says continuing to negotiate shows weakness after Tehran gave noncommittal response to ‘take it or leave it’ offer

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Yair Lapid (right) and alternate prime minister Naftali Bennett at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 31, 2022. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid (right) and alternate prime minister Naftali Bennett at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 31, 2022. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

The time has come for Western powers to walk away from talks with Iran on returning to the nuclear deal, top Israeli officials are telling their counterparts in Washington and in European capitals.

“The Europeans sent Iran a final offer, which doesn’t even meet the demands that the Americans committed to, and established that this offer was ‘take it or leave it,'” said a senior Israeli official at the highest level of decision-making on Thursday.

“Iran turned down the offer, and the time has come to get up and walk away,” the official continued. “Anything else sends a strong message of weakness.”

The senior official, in a briefing to Israeli journalists, said that the world must now discuss what must be done in order to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid expressed this message in his phone call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz earlier on Thursday. He also made the case on Thursday to US Ambassador Tom Nides, and Florida congressman Ted Deutch, chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa and Global Counterterrorism.

Lapid will continue to make calls to Western leaders and diplomats, the Israeli official said.

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell chairs a Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels on March 21, 2022. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP)

National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata will head to Washington, DC, next week to conduct a series of meetings with US officials on the Iran nuclear program.

The briefing came a day after an anonymous Israeli official delivered to local media a seemingly contradictory message — that Jerusalem believes Iran is close to inking an agreement with world powers, and has started preparing for the announcement of a deal.

On July 26, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell submitted a proposal to Iran on returning to the nuclear deal, with a deadline for it to respond by midnight Monday night.

According to a Politico report citing a senior Western official, the Iranian response was received Monday evening Brussels time and focused on remaining questions related to sanctions and “guarantees around economic engagement.”

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency offered no details on the substance of its response, but suggested that Tehran still wouldn’t take the European Union-mediated proposal, despite warnings there would be no more negotiations.

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

“The differences are on three issues, in which the United States has expressed its verbal flexibility in two cases, but it should be included in the text,” the IRNA report said. “The third issue is related to guaranteeing the continuation of [the deal], which depends on the realism of the United States.”

During Thursday’s briefing, the senior Israeli official highlighted a May 30 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency to the effect that Iran was not providing credible responses to the nuclear watchdog’s questions, saying that report should “set off a bright red warning light for the international community.”

The official also noted that Israel is not bound by any agreements with Iran, and said it “will do whatever is necessary in order to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon and to prevent Iran from using its terror proxies in the region.”

“The US knows and recognizes this,” the official said.

Iran signed its nuclear deal in 2015 with the US, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China. The deal saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium under the watch of UN inspectors in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

In 2018, then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the accord and said he would negotiate a stronger deal, but that didn’t happen. Iran began breaking the deal’s terms a year later.

EU-coordinated negotiations on reviving the deal, known as the JCPOA, began in April 2021 before coming to a standstill in March and picking up again in August.

A person involved with security at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, on March 30, 2005. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Israel believes Iran wishes to build a nuclear bomb, and has reportedly carried out sabotage operations within the Islamic Republic to delay the development of such a weapon.

Iran has denied any nefarious intentions and claims its program is designed for peaceful purposes, though it has recently been enriching uranium to levels that international leaders say have no civil use.

Two major roadblocks remain in the negotiations if Tehran does want to return to the deal: Iran is demanding an end to International Atomic Energy Agency investigations into its nuclear program, and wants guarantees to cover the possibility of the US ditching the agreement again in the future.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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