With Iran’s nuclear deal with global powers teetering on the edge of collapse, Israeli intelligence has identified a significant acceleration of work on the production of new uranium centrifuges, as Tehran prepares for the possibility of boosting enrichment activities, Channel 13 news reported Friday night.
The intelligence sources were not named, nor were further details provided on the alleged centrifuge production efforts.
The sources cited by the network also said, however, that the Islamic republic was making back-channel overtures to Washington expressing a willingness to renew talks in a bid to find common ground.
That assessment appeared to agree with statements made by US President Donald Trump on Thursday.
Speaking after talks in northern France with French President Emmanuel Macron, an ardent supporter of diplomacy with Iran, Trump indicated he could consider talking to Tehran.
“I understand they want to talk and if they want to talk that’s fine,” said Trump, who was in France to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
“We’ll talk but the one thing that they can’t have is they can’t have nuclear weapons,” he added.
Trump said when he came to power Iran was “undisputed champions of terror” but indicated activity had slackened in recent times.
“They’re not doing that anymore. They’re doing very poorly as a nation. They’re failing as a nation,” said Trump.
Trump referred to the US sanctions against Iran which are battering the Iranian economy especially since Washington pulled out of the nuclear deal.
“I don’t want them to fail as a nation. We can turn that around very quickly but the sanctions have been extraordinary.”
On Friday, Washington slapped Tehran with new sanctions, targeting its largest petrochemical company for providing support to the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Although EU leaders were bitterly angered by Trump’s pullout from the nuclear deal, the US president said he and Macron did not have differences on how to handle Iran.
Macron said the US shared the same four objectives on Iran — to prevent it obtaining nuclear weapons, reduce its activities in ballistics, contain Iran’s operations in the region and promote regional peace.
The French president said that in order to achieve such objectives “you need to start a negotiation” and applauded Trump’s apparent readiness to hold talks.
The comments came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has a warm personal relationship with Trump, plans to travel to Iran next week as Tokyo aims to play mediation role.
However, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lashed out at Trump earlier this week, saying “when such a person is the president, this shows the political and moral decline of that country.”
Also on Friday, Iran rejected the notion of reopening nuclear talks, warning that seeking to broaden an existing landmark treaty could lead to its collapse.
Earlier this week, Tehran ruled out new talks with Washington unless it changes its “general behavior,” after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his country was ready for negotiations with Iran.
Pompeo, too, was reserved, saying Iran must first prove “they are behaving as a normal nation.”
The Trump administration’s hard-line approach with Iran began with the US withdrawal from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers last year and continued with punishing economic sanctions on the Shiite state.
Last month, Iran announced that if a way could not be found within 60 days to shield it from US sanctions targeting its economy and oil industry, it would increase its enrichment of uranium beyond the purity allowed under the nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
A few days later, Tehran said it had increased its uranium-enrichment production capacity, though only of the lower-enriched uranium permitted by the agreement.