Mossad chief said heading to Washington in bid to block US return to Iran deal

Yossi Cohen reportedly to confer with intelligence officials, present evidence Iranians hiding details of nuke program; Israel working to get him a meeting with Biden

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen speaks at a Tel Aviv University cyber conference, on June 24, 2019. (Flash90/File)
Mossad chief Yossi Cohen speaks at a Tel Aviv University cyber conference, on June 24, 2019. (Flash90/File)

Mossad spy agency chief Yossi Cohen will travel to Washington in the coming days for meetings with top officials in the White House and the American intelligence community, Channel 13 news reported Wednesday.

It will be the first high-level visit by an Israeli official since US President Joe Biden took office in January.

Israel is also trying to arrange a face-to-face meeting between Cohen and Biden, the report said.

According to the report, Cohen will present evidence that Israel says shows Iran is lying and hiding details about its nuclear program from the world, in a bid to prevent the US from reentering the 2015 nuclear deal in its original form, and instead maintain its sanctions regime on Iran.

US President Joe Biden speaks in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, in Washington, April 7, 2021. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Biden has said he is ready to reverse the decision of his predecessor Donald Trump to withdraw from the landmark 2015 agreement, negotiated to ensure that Iran did not develop a military nuclear program, but the White House has insisted that Iran first return to compliance. Tehran demands the US first lift sanctions, putting the sides at a stalemate.

Israel is strongly opposed to a US return to the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday that Israel will not be bound by a revitalized pact between world powers and Iran, declaring that the Jewish state is obligated to defend itself against those who seek to destroy it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a ceremony held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, as Israel marks annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. April 7, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Since Trump pulled the US out of the deal with Iran in 2018, re-imposing sanctions on Tehran, the remaining parties have been struggling to save the agreement.

Iran has been steadily violating the restrictions of the deal, including on the amount of enriched uranium it can stockpile and the purity to which it can enrich it.

Tehran’s moves have been calculated to put pressure on the other nations in the deal — Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain — to do more to offset crippling sanctions reimposed under Trump, but they also bring Iran potentially closer to the bomb.

FILE – This Jan. 15, 2011 file photo shows the heavy water nuclear facility near Arak, Iran. (AP Photo/ISNA, Hamid Foroutan, File)

A senior Iranian official said Wednesday that the country has produced 55 kilograms (121 lbs) of uranium enriched to 20 percent since the beginning of the year, in defiance of the deal.

The announcement came a day after the US and Iran began indirect talks aimed at finding a path for both countries to return to the pact.

The production rate is even faster than the goal of enriching 120 kilograms (260 lbs) of uranium a year, or 10 kg per month, stipulated by an Iranian law passed last year that aimed to pressure the US in response to crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.

Uranium enriched to 20% is a short technical step away from weapons-grade 90% enrichment.

Prior to the announcement, the US, Iran and Russia reacted positively to the opening exchanges in the first day of talks in Vienna aimed at rescuing the deal.

All sides reported progress on reviving the deal following the meeting which saw the Biden administration and Iran hold indirect talks on the agreement for the first time. The European Union is acting as an intermediary.

Deputy Secretary General and Political Director of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Enrique Mora, right, leaves the Grand Hotel Wien where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran take place in Vienna, Austria, April 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

Tensions in the Middle East have heated in recent months as Iran repeatedly violated the terms of the nuclear deal, possibly to increase its leverage ahead of talks with the Biden administration.

Israel has repeatedly communicated its opposition to returning to the deal to Washington. The sides recently reestablished a bilateral group for cooperating in the effort to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms, agreeing to set up a joint team for sharing intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel and Iran have accused each other recently of attacking a number of merchant ships, damaging them with explosives. The vessels in each case were only lightly damaged and there were no reported injuries in the incidents.

On Tuesday morning, limpet mines were reportedly detonated on the MV Saviz, a cargo ship off the coast of Yemen that has been allegedly used for years by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a command-and-control center for its operations in the region. An American official attributed the strike to Israeli commandos.

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