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Lapid slams EU foreign policy chief for trip to Iran to push reumption of nuke talks

Incoming prime minister criticizes Josep Borrell for his ‘lack of care for the lives of Israeli citizens,’ after the latter said JCPOA negotiations would resume within days

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right) and the European Union's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, in Brussels on July 11, 2021. (Twitter)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right) and the European Union's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, in Brussels on July 11, 2021. (Twitter)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid harshly criticized the European Union’s top diplomat Sunday for his decision to travel to Iran in a bid to push along talks aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.

In a letter addressed to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, Lapid wrote Sunday that “this is a strategic mistake that sends the wrong message to Iran,” according to the Politico news site.

Borrell said Saturday that negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program would resume within days, after making a surprise trip to Tehran.

Borrell messaged Lapid ahead of his visit to Iran this weekend to give him a heads-up on “his attempt to bring Iran back to the nuclear agreement negotiations, and to remove the last obstacles,” a diplomat briefed on the exchange was cited by Politico as saying.

Lapid also slammed the EU official for his “lack of care for the lives of Israeli citizens,” considering the recent reports of Iranian operatives targeting Israelis in Turkey.

Jerusalem has said Iranian agents were dispatched to Turkey in recent weeks in order to target Israeli tourists in an attempt to avenge recent attacks on Iranian nuclear and military targets attributed to the Jewish state.

Several raids have taken place to catch Iran-directed cells, according to reports in Turkish and Israeli media.

The harsh tone letter from Lapid would mark a stark break from his attempts to align Israel closer to Brussels, after ties had frayed under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It came as Lapid is set to soon take over as prime minister ahead of expected new elections. Lapid will continue to hold the foreign affairs portfolio, though issues related to Iran will continue to be under the aegis of outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the government said last week.

Josep Borrell, the high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy speaks during a meeting with Iran’s foreign minister at the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Iran’s capital Tehran on June 25, 2022. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Earlier Sunday, Iran tested out its Zuljanah satellite launcher, the second of three tests scheduled for the long-range ballistic launcher, which the US has warned could be used to launch nuclear warheads.

According to the Politico report, Lapid’s criticism was generally viewed by Borrell’s office as part of an ongoing Israeli effort to sabotage the negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.

Two Turkish riot police officers walk in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, on June 14, 2022. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)

Israel is fiercely opposed to a return to the 2015 deal, which it campaigned against at the time of its signing, viewing Iran as untrustworthy and unable to keep its commitments.

Successive Israeli governments have warned for two decades that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear weapon.

The US pulled out of the deal in 2018.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has sought to return to the agreement, saying it would be the best path to keep the Islamic Republic from getting nuclear arms.

Talks began in April last year, but stalled in March, amid differences between Tehran and Washington, notably over a demand by Iran to remove its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from a US terror list.

Robert Malley, the Biden administration special envoy for Iran, testifies about the JCPOA during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill, May 25, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/ AFP)

The deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for guarantees it could not develop a nuclear weapon — something Tehran has always denied wanting to do.

The United States unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump, before imposing waves of biting sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

AFP contributed to this report.

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