Israel launches diplomatic blitz ahead of renewed Iran nuclear talks

Gantz: It’s our responsibility to influence our partners on Iran and to build our military strength

Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building, housing IAEA headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021. (photo credit: LISI NIESNER/ REUTERS)
Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building, housing IAEA headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021.
(photo credit: LISI NIESNER/ REUTERS)

Israel will make its position heard ahead of the return to nuclear talks with Iran by world powers on Monday, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid scheduled to visit London and Paris next week.

Lapid will meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss the negotiations, as well as bilateral ties between Israel and their countries.

Indirect talks between the US and Iran are set to resume on Monday in Vienna, with the other parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – Russia, China, France, Germany, the UK and the EU – taking part. The US seeks to return to the nuclear deal as it was written in 2015, while Iran has said it will only negotiate the removal of US sanctions and not nuclear matters.

Israel opposed the JCPOA when it was first reached, arguing that it was not strong enough and directly paved a path for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, and opposes a return to the deal arguing that recent advances of Iran’s nuclear program – including 60% enriched uranium and the development of uranium metal, which have no credible civilian use – have rendered the deal’s restrictions irrelevant.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz called on the world to work together to ensure Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.

OFFICIALS FROM Iran and the six major world powers pose for a group picture after reaching the JCPOA in Vienna in 2015. (credit: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA)OFFICIALS FROM Iran and the six major world powers pose for a group picture after reaching the JCPOA in Vienna in 2015. (credit: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA)

“It’s our responsibility, in the context of Iran, to influence our partners and hold an ongoing dialogue,” Gantz said at the end of a visit to Morocco on Thursday. “Our second responsibility is to build our military might. I ordered [the IDF] to upgrade force-building.”

Gantz advised the Western negotiators in Vienna to “pay attention to what they want to achieve there and not soften too much... A good deal will plug up the holes in the existing agreement when it comes to nuclear developments, launching systems, its timeline, and what Iran does in the region.”

The Biden administration said earlier this year that it would seek to lengthen the Iran Deal and increase its restrictions, but the negotiations next week are not meant to address any of those issues, and are only meant to return to the 2015 JCPOA without changes – and even the possibility of returning to that deal is in doubt.

The defense minister declined to comment on Israeli disagreements with the Americans, saying the discussions take place behind closed doors.

Israel must “make sure we talk to both sides of the aisle in the US and stay bipartisan, and not slide into American politics as we did in the past,” he said, referring to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s disputes with the Obama administration.

Meanwhile, in Vienna, the US threatened Iran with action at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors on Thursday.

“If Iran’s non-cooperation is not immediately remedied, including on the issues raised under the JCPOA agenda – especially the restoration of continuity of knowledge at karaj, –the Board will have no choice but to reconvene in extraordinary session before the end of this year in order to address the crisis,” US Charge d’Affaires Louis L. Bono told the IAEA Board of Governors.

The remarks came after IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi told the Board of Governors that he was unable to reach an agreement with Tehran on his agency’s supervision of Iranian nuclear sites.

Iran has not allowed the IAEA access to the Karaj nuclear site. In addition, the agency and Iran have been working under an interim agreement since February, under which IAEA surveillance equipment would be operative at other sites, but the agency would not be able to access the footage from those cameras until a further agreement was reached.

“The repeated prolongation of the agreement, which has now been in place for around nine months, is becoming a significant challenge to the Agency’s ability to restore this continuity of knowledge,” Grossi said. “Continuity of knowledge at the [Karaj] workshop...has been widely recognized as essential in relation to a return to the JCPOA.”

The E3 – the UK, France and Germany – warned at the IAEA meeting that “as a result of its alarming pace of production, Iran’s total stockpile today contains enough fissile material that if enriched further could be used to produce more than one nuclear weapon, and accumulation of uranium enriched at 20% and 60% is further reducing the time Iran would take to break out toward a first nuclear weapon.”

In addition, Iran installed advanced centrifuge envelopment and developed knowledge critical to producing a nuclear weapon in the field of uranium metal.

 A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran, Iran April 10, 2021 (credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran, Iran April 10, 2021 (credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

“Iran’s continued escalations are irreversibly reducing the counter-proliferation value of the JCPOA,” the E3 stated.

Still, they said, they are convinced that it is possible to reach an agreement for Iran to fully comply with the JCPOA, and that it is in the best interest of all parties to do so soon.

Iranian representative at the IAEA Mohammad Reza Ghaebi took issue with the European states being “unwilling to clearly condemn the illegal unilateral withdrawal of US [from the JCPOA] and re-imposition of its sanctions.” He called that withdrawal the root cause of the current dispute, and that it was “unreasonable” to expect restraint from Iran as long as US sanctions are in place.

Russia, however, sought to get Iran off the IAEA agenda and downplayed the issue’s importance.

“We hope that by the next session of the IAEA Board of Governors in March 2022, all the outstanding issues will be resolved and the item ‘[Non-Proliferation Treaty] Safeguards Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran’ will be forever taken off the Board agenda,” said Russian Ambassador to International Organizations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov.

He further tweeted that “in the IAEA BoG many delegations rightly say that safeguards-related outstanding issues remain on the agenda for too long. These issues have little practical meaning in terms of proliferation risks but serve as a constant irritant. They need to be clarified and closed.”