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Israel said to urge nuclear talks be conditioned on Iran halting uranium enrichment

With negotiations set to start Monday in Vienna, report says Jerusalem also anxious to prevent sides from striking an interim deal

Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (Screenshot, Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting-IRIB, via AP)
Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (Screenshot, Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting-IRIB, via AP)

With talks aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal restarting Monday, Israel is pressing parties to the discussions to condition them on Tehran’s cessation of uranium enrichment, Kan news has reported.

In 2018 then-US president Donald Trump pulled out of the deal, 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%.

Israel remains opposed to the 2015 deal, and officials believe it is even less effective now that Iran has advanced its capabilities to unprecedented levels.

According to Sunday’s unsourced report by Kan, Israel is making efforts to not only stop a return to the previous agreement, but also to prevent the sides from agreeing on and implementing an interim agreement, a plan the US is said to be considering as a stop-gap if a full agreement cannot be reached.

Meanwhile, the Haaretz daily reported Monday that Jerusalem believes the talks’ potential failure could lead to increased friction in the Middle East between Tehran, and Israel and the Gulf states.

TV cameras in front of the ‘Grand Hotel Vienna’ where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, June 20, 2021. (Florian Schroetter/AP)

Unnamed sources said that Iran was using low-intensity military action in the region to try to pressure Western powers into an agreement with terms more favorable to Tehran.

If the talks — which have been frozen since the summer when Iran elected hardliner President Ebrahim Raisi — were to fail, the report said Israel believes that military activity could increase.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi addresses the parliament in Tehran on November 16, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The report said that Israeli officials believe a number of recent drone attacks and attempted attacks in the Middle East attributed to Iran were a method for Tehran to apply pressure to ensure a favorable outcome from the nuclear talks.

The talks, suspended since June, are due to resume on Monday between Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia to try to salvage the nuclear deal. The United States will take part indirectly.

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.

The Natanz uranium enrichment facility buildings are pictured some 200 miles (322 km) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, on March 30, 2005. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

But it unraveled in 2018 as Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the accord, and Iran began rolling back its nuclear commitments. The administration of Trump’s successor, US President Joe Biden, says it is working to return the US to the accord.

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

Meanwhile 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.

In parallel to the Vienna talks, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is currently in London for a two-day trip to the United Kingdom and France.

One of Lapid’s primary goals in his meetings with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron is to ensure that banking sanctions against Iran remain in place, Channel 13 reported. However, Iran is coming to Vienna determined to have those very sanctions removed.

AFP contributed to this report.

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