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'There are many things that can be done to pressure Iran'

Israeli official predicts no return to Iran deal before US midterms in November

Official says Biden administration has pledged not to make more major concessions in talks with Tehran, as Lapid flies to Berlin to discuss nuclear issue

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

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

Israel does not believe that Iran and world powers will return to their nuclear deal before the November midterm elections in the United States, a senior Israeli official said on Sunday morning.

Furthermore, “If the US doesn’t give into Iran’s demands, and Iran doesn’t give into US demands and the IAEA doesn’t close the probes, there will be no return to the agreement,” the official said.

The official asserted that Iran does not have any intention of returning to the  nuclear agreement without additional concessions by the West. At the same time, Israel “doesn’t have any expectation that Iran will agree [to a new deal].”

“Iran must be pressured by the West before it accepts a new deal,” the official continued, emphasizing that “there are many things that can be done to cause Iran to understand that time is not on its side.”

The official made the remarks to Israeli journalists hours before Prime Minister Yair Lapid was to fly to Berlin, where talks over Iran’s nuclear program will be front and center.

The original 2015 agreement, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, gave Iran sanctions relief in return for restricting its nuclear program.

Related: Exclusive – Nuclear deal with Iran off the table for time being, US has indicated to Israel

But in 2018, then-US president Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal and began reimposing biting sanctions, prompting Tehran to roll back on its commitments under the agreement.

Negotiations taking place in Vienna since April 2021 have aimed to restore the deal by lifting the sanctions on Tehran once again and pushing Iran to fully honor its obligations.

US President Joe Biden holds a joint press conference with Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2022. (Emil Salman/Pool)

Last month, the European Union, which acts as the mediator of the talks, put forward a “final” draft of the agreement. Iran and the US then took turns responding to the text, with Washington saying on Friday that Iran’s latest reply was a step “backwards.”

Three ongoing probes into Iran’s nuclear activity by the International Atomic Energy Agency are a major sticking point in the talks. Iran has demanded that the IAEA close its investigation into several undeclared nuclear sites, a nonstarter for Western powers.

The Israeli official said that ongoing dialogue between officials in Jerusalem and in Washington is influencing the Biden administration’s position on the negotiations.

“We succeeded in swaying the Americans from making additional concessions to Iran,” said the official. “The US committed to us that it wouldn’t apply pressure [on the IAEA] to close the open probes — not only the US, but also European countries.”

The US also committed to not give Iran any meaningful guarantees that a future administration won’t leave the deal, said the official, nor will it remove all the sanctions that Iran demands.

In recent weeks, National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata, Mossad chief David Barnea, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have flown to Washington for talks on Iran’s nuclear program with their American counterparts.

The official said that the administration listens to Israeli officials when they dig in their heels on issues that Jerusalem sees as critical. “All the senior officials in Israel are speaking with one voice, and most of the conversation is done behind closed doors and in coordination with the government,” the official said.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), updates journalists about the current situation in Iran in Vienna, Austria, June 9, 2022. (Joe Klamar/AFP)

“The goal is to make clear to the Americans where we define the red lines.”

At the same time, the official continued, “we think that their dedication to this agreement is a mistake.”

The official assessed that Iran is “weeks away” from enriching enough uranium for a nuclear weapon, if it decides to. But “Iran has not decided to break out to a weapon,” the official said.

Israel does not expect the Iran nuclear issue to revert to the United Nations Security Council “in the near future,” said the official.

At the same time, Saturday’s statement by the three European parties to the nuclear deal regarding the IAEA is “very, very important,” said the official.

Germany, France and Britain raised “serious doubts” about Iran’s sincerity in seeking a revived nuclear agreement and warned that the Islamic Republic’s position was jeopardizing the prospects of a deal. The group of nations, known as the E3, also warned that Iran “continues to escalate its nuclear program way beyond any plausible civilian justification.”

Iran’s foreign ministry called the statement “unconstructive” and “regrettable.”

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