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Lapid and Gantz said to warn US: Iran is close to nuclear threshold

Senior diplomat cautions that Tehran could take advantage of lull in talks, until Iran’s new president installed, to advance program

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of their meeting in Rome, on June 27, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ahead of their meeting in Rome, on June 27, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP)

Israeli authorities have warned US officials in recent days that Iran is closer than ever to attaining nuclear weapons, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other Israeli officials have addressed the issue with their American counterparts recently, issuing an “unusual warning,” according to the Sunday report.

Nuclear talks between world powers and Iran — attended indirectly by the US — have been ongoing for months in Vienna, but have stalled in recent weeks.

“Something has to happen with the negotiations with Iran,” a senior diplomat told Kan. “This ‘limbo’ cannot be a time when Iran is quickly advancing toward becoming a nuclear threshold state.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is working to schedule a meeting in Washington with US President Joe Biden next month, though he is hampered by his wafer-thin majority in the Knesset, requiring his presence for every crucial vote.

Since April, Tehran has been engaged in talks with world powers in Vienna over reviving a 2015 nuclear accord, with Washington taking part indirectly in the negotiations.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (right) hosts an honor cordon welcoming Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Pentagon in Washington on June 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The talks aim to return the US to the deal it withdrew from in 2018 under former president Donald Trump by lifting the sanctions reimposed on Tehran, and to have Tehran return to full compliance with nuclear commitments it has gradually retreated from in retaliation for sanctions.

Then-president Reuven Rivlin and US President Joe Biden in the White House on June 29, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Iran has confirmed that the talks will not resume until the ultraconservative new president, Ebrahim Raisi, takes office in August.

Israel has long opposed the nuclear deal and Biden’s stated intentions to reenter the treaty.

“We would like the world to understand that the Iranian regime is violent and fanatical,” Bennett said last month. “It selected the ‘Hangman of Tehran’ as its president — a man who is willing to starve his own people for years in order to have a military nuclear program. That is a regime that one should not do business with.”

Bennett added that Israel “will continue to consult with our friends, persuade, discuss, and share information and insights out of mutual respect. But at the end of the day, we will be responsible for our own fate, nobody else.”

From left, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States and United Nations Gilad Erdan, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan meet in Washington on June 23, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Shortly after Bennett took office, then-president Reuven Rivlin met with Biden at the White House in Washington, and made clear Israel’s message on Iran. Rivlin told Biden that “the Iranian nuclear deal, as it currently stands, endangers the State of Israel.”

Lapid met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Rome a month ago, and stressed that Israel has “some serious reservations” about the Iran nuclear deal being negotiated in Vienna. Gantz was hosted by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last month.

Also last month, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi warned US officials during a visit to Washington about “the failures of the current nuclear deal, which allow Iran to make significant advances in the coming years in the quantity and quality of centrifuges and in the amount and quality of enriched uranium, and he stressed the lack of oversight in the area of developing a nuclear weapon.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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