Lapid: Iran wants more funds for terror, will keep advancing nuclear program

At MOU signing ceremony with UK counterpart, FM calls for tighter sanctions and supervision; UK says Tehran responsible if talks fail

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) walks with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss at the Foreign Office, in London, November 29, 2021 (Stuart Mitchell/ GPO)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (L) walks with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss at the Foreign Office, in London, November 29, 2021 (Stuart Mitchell/ GPO)

As the seventh round of Vienna talks on Iran’s nuclear program begins Monday, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid argued that Tehran had no intention of stopping its nuclear program.

“The Iranians are coming to these talks for only one reason — to get sanctions lifted,” Lapid said after signing a Memorandum of Understanding with his British counterpart Liz Truss in London. “They need money. For Hezbollah, for the Revolutionary Guards, for their global terrorist network, and for their continued race towards a nuclear weapon.”

Israel’s top diplomat posited that Tehran’s strategy in Vienna is to “play for time, earn billions from the removal of sanctions, continue to deceive the world, and covertly advance their nuclear program.”

Lapid called for tighter sanctions on Iran, tighter supervision of nuclear sites, and for talks with Iran to be “conducted from a position of strength.”

European Union-sponsored negotiations aimed at saving an unraveling 2015 nuclear agreement between world powers and Iran were set to restart Monday in Vienna. Israel is reportedly pressing parties to the discussions, including the UK, to condition them on Tehran’s cessation of uranium enrichment.

Lapid also spoke about the MOU he signed with Truss, saying that it will lead to a free trade agreement, increased security cooperation and joint development of hi-tech projects.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) signs an MOU with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss at the Foreign Office, in London, November 29, 2021 (Stuart Mitchell/ GPO)

“This agreement is not just a win-win, but a must-must,” Lapid said.

Under its terms, Israel will officially become a “Tier One cyber partner” for the UK.

Lapid is currently in London for a two-day trip to the United Kingdom and France.

‘Iran responsible if talks fail’

A British Embassy spokesperson stressed that the UK is determined to see a deal reached, but that time is growing short for Iran.

“We think that the offer that we’ve presented to the Iranians is fair and comprehensive,” she told the Times of Israel. “Iran has thus far refused to take the opportunity to make that deal, and we have been clear with them that it will not remain on the table. So if we can’t reach a deal at these negotiations, we will need to reconsider our approach.

“If a deal isn’t reached, Iran will be responsible for the missed opportunity.”

Israeli officials have been increasingly sounding alarm bells over Iran’s nuclear program and the negotiations in recent weeks, with Jerusalem believing the 2015 deal is far too weak and ultimately paves the way to an Iranian nuclear weapon.

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. It was signed between Iran and the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany.

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

‘The clock is ticking’

Lapid and Truss penned a joint piece published by the Daily Telegraph newspaper Monday in which they pledged that the two countries will “work night and day to prevent the Iranian regime from ever becoming a nuclear power,” calling for other allies to join the effort.

“The clock is ticking, which heightens the need for close cooperation with our partners and friends to thwart Tehran’s ambitions,” they said.

“We know the world has to be safe for freedom-loving democracies,” they added, noting the countries’ military cooperation in the form of joint air exercises and the July docking of British warship HMS Richmond at Haifa’s port.

The ministers also denounced a deadly attack last week by a Hamas terrorist in Jerusalem that killed an Israeli man, as well as an incident earlier in the month when the Israeli ambassador to the UK was forced to abandon her participation in a university debate due to raucous protests by pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

Israel’s trade cooperation with the UK is worth £5 billion ($6.6 billion), the ministers said, and pointed out that Israeli pharmaceutical company Teva provides one-sixth of the prescription medicines used by the UK’s National Health Service.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (R) and his British counterpart Liz Truss at the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office in London, November 29, 2021. (Stuart Mitchell)

The United States will indirectly participate in the Vienna talks with US President Joe Biden’s administration saying it is willing to return the US to the accord.

But 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.

AFP contributed to this report.

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