Archive for March 5, 2021

US hopes Iran will ‘engage’ after Europeans drop nuclear censure plan

March 5, 2021


State Department spokesman says United States ‘pleased’ with EU move and ready for dialogue; Tehran: Latest developments ‘keep open the path of diplomacy’

By JASTINDER KHERA and VALERIE LEROUXToday, 12:10 am  

US State Department Spokesman Ned Price speaks to reporters during a news briefing at the State Department in Washington, on Monday, March 1, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Pool via AP)

1US State Department Spokesman Ned Price speaks to reporters during a news briefing at the State Department in Washington, on Monday, March 1, 2021. (Tom Brenner/Pool via AP)

VIENNA, Austria (AFP) — European nations Thursday dropped a planned resolution at the UN nuclear watchdog criticizing Iran, in a bid to hasten the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal that was praised both by Tehran and Washington.

France, Britain and Germany — known as the E3 — had planned to introduce a resolution at this week’s meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors, with the support of the United States, denouncing Iran’s suspension of some IAEA inspections.

“We have decided to not present the resolution,” the German foreign ministry said.

“Iran must now prove that it is serious in its wish to fully relaunch the nuclear deal,” it added.

One diplomat pointed to initiatives undertaken by IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi and signs of “good faith” on the Iranian side to explain the decision to drop the resolution, which had not been formally submitted.Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, arrives for the start of the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. (Ronald Zak/AP)

Grossi announced earlier Thursday that Iran had agreed to hold a series of meetings with the UN nuclear watchdog to “clarify a number of outstanding issues”.

US President Joe Biden has said he is willing to bring the United States back to the landmark 2015 deal, known as the JCPOA.

It has been unraveling since Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement in 2018.

‘Wisdom prevails’

A French diplomat said “encouraging signs” from the Iranians would not have been achieved “if the threat of the resolution hadn’t been maintained until the end.”

The diplomat said it was hoped that a meeting proposed by the EU of the remaining 2015 participants — Iran, France, Germany, Russia, China and Britain — could take place within two weeks, with Brussels the likely venue.

Iran welcomed the European decision not to go ahead with a resolution.

“Today’s developments can keep open the path of diplomacy initiated by Iran and the IAEA,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.

“Iran hopes the parties participating in the agreement can seize this opportunity, with serious cooperation, to ensure the full implementation of the agreement by all,” he added.IAEA head Rafael Grossi, center left, speaks with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, center right, before a meeting in Tehran, Iran, August 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iran has previously said the time was not suitable for a proposed European-led meeting of all parties including the United States, calling instead for Biden first to lift sanctions imposed by Trump.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was “pleased” with the European move in Vienna and remained ready for dialogue.

“We will look forward with strong interest for Iran’s willingness to engage in a way that leads to credible, concrete progress,” Price told reporters.

Russia and China also hailed the news, with Moscow’s Ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov saying the resolution “could have led to uncontrolled escalation”.

Grossi said “a technical meeting” will take place in Iran at the beginning of April as part of a new process aimed at clarifying queries the IAEA has raised about the possible previous presence of nuclear material at undeclared sites.

He said it was his “intention to try to come to a satisfactory outcome for all of this in time for the next regular session of the board of governors” in June.

Uranium metal

Earlier this week a report in the Iranian Vatan-e-Emrouz newspaper also said Tehran had temporarily suspended the production of uranium metal on the order of President Hassan Rouhani.

The JCPOA put a 15-year ban on uranium metal production in Iran but Tehran says it has the right to breach this and a series of other JCPOA limits in retaliation for the US withdrawal from the accord and subsequent imposition of sanctions.

Late last month Iran suspended some IAEA inspections as US sanctions remained in effect.

The suspension was described by Grossi as a “huge loss” for the agency.IAEA head Rafael Mariano Grossi during a news conference at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. (Ronald Zak/AP)

However, after two days of talks between Grossi and Iranian officials in Tehran, a three-month arrangement was reached under which Iran pledged to keep recordings “of some activities and monitoring equipment” and hand them over to the IAEA if and when US sanctions are lifted.

Iran had threatened to suspend that temporary arrangement in the event of a critical resolution at the IAEA.

Gantz: IDF updating military plans for potential strike on Iran nuclear sites

March 5, 2021


In interview with Fox News, defense minister says it would be ‘good’ if world stops Tehran from obtaining atomic weapons before Israel forced to take action

By TOI STAFFToday, 2:02 am  0

Benny Gantz: "A fragmented society whose members feel alienated and marginalized is a society ready to target those it holds responsible for its troubles."(Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Benny Gantz: “A fragmented society whose members feel alienated and marginalized is a society ready to target those it holds responsible for its troubles.”(Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday said the Israel Defense Forces is continuously updating its plans for a prospective military strike on Iranian nuclear sites.

Gantz, in an interview with Fox News, said the military plans would not be finalized until right before such a strike was set to be carried out.

“Until then, we will continue to build them [the plans], to improve them… to the highest professional level possible,” he said.

“If the world stops them [Iran] before, it’s much the better. But if not, we must stand independently and we must defend ourselves by ourselves,” added the defense minister.

Israel has twice conducted military strikes against the nuclear programs of its enemies — Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007 — under what’s become known as the Begin Doctrine, which maintains that Jerusalem will not allow an enemy country to obtain an atomic weapon.

An Iranian technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran. February 3, 2007. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Gantz has previously warned Israel would carry out a military strike against Iran, if necessary.

His comments came as the US seeks to reenter the Iran nuclear deal. The Islamic Republic has been openly violating the agreement clinched in 2015, stepping up uranium enrichment far beyond permitted levels. It recently barred international inspectors from its nuclear sites.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday said the 2015 nuclear deal “cannot be renegotiated — period.”

“Let’s stop posturing,” he tweeted, “which we both did from 2003-2012 to no avail — and get down to implementing [the deal] which we both actually signed on to.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses in a conference in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iran has demanded an immediate removal of US sanctions as a precondition to its return to compliance with the deal, while Washington has said Iran must first end its violations of the accord.

Iran on Sunday rebuffed an offer from the European Union to hold informal direct talks with the EU and US on Tehran’s nuclear program. US President Joe Biden’s administration had accepted in principle.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will do whatever it takes to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, regardless of whether Washington reenters the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.

“I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and so far, we’ve been successful,” Netanyahu said Thursday

.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu interviewed on Fox and Friends, March 4, 2021. (Screen capture: Twitter)

In an interview earlier Thursday with Fox News, Netanyahu said he believes Biden “understands… that my commitment to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons is absolute.”

“But one thing I believe he understands and respects, is that as the prime minister of the one and only Jewish state, we are not going to let a bunch of ayatollahs wipe us out from the face of the earth or from the map of history,” said Netanyahu.

Last week, Netanyahu held the first major intra-ministerial meeting to discuss Israel’s policy vis-à-vis Iran since Biden took office. Among the senior officials who took part in the meeting were Defense Minister Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and Israel’s Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan.

Also participating were former national security council chairmen Yaakov Amidror and Yaakov Nagel, who Netanyahu is bringing on as external advisers on the issue, the Walla news site reported. Both of them are considered to have a hawkish stance on Iran more in line with Netanyahu’s.

Amidror was national security adviser while the agreement was being crafted and sparred with his American counterpart at the time, Susan Rice. Nagel, a nuclear expert, also served as an adviser during that period but stayed on longer, leading talks with the Trump administration to institute its “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign

.

Outgoing national security adviser Yaakov Amidror with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a farewell ceremony in Amidror’s honor, on November 3, 2013. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Also expected to serve as an external adviser on the matter is longtime Netanyahu aide and Erdan’s predecessor Ron Dermer, who is set to return to Israel in the coming weeks.

During last Monday’s meeting, Kohavi and Cohen emphasized the importance of working to build goodwill with the new US administration by not sparring publicly with Washington over the Iran deal, Walla reported.

“We have not moved from our position against returning to the nuclear deal, but we want to work together with the administration and have a constructive discussion with it, not a confrontation,” a senior official said.

Additionally, Netanyahu plans to delegate talks on Iran to senior staff to prevent any personal tension between him and Biden, according to Reuters.

“The intent is to work everything out at that level, and to keep that communication channel open,” a senior official told Reuters. “Obviously this has benefits where there is a risk of a ‘cold shoulder’ at chief-executive level.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) sits with former interim Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Nagel (R) at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

Jerusalem is hoping to keep disputes with the new administration “under the radar” for the time being, Army Radio reported.

Also last week, the Kan public broadcaster reported that senior Israeli and Saudi officials have recently held several phone calls to discuss the Biden administration’s plans to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal.

During the conversations, the Saudis also expressed concern over the new US administration and lamented its focus on human rights violations in the kingdom, the report said. Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations but have maintained clandestine ties. Netanyahu visited Saudi Arabia in November for the first known meeting between Israeli and Saudi leaders.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Netanyahu speaks to Harris, tells her he won’t allow Iran to obtain nukes

March 5, 2021


US vice president condemns ICC decision to investigate Israel for war crimes, congratulates premier for successful vaccine drive, PM’s office says

By TOI STAFF and JACOB MAGIDToday, 1:25 am  2Sen.

Sen. Kamala Harris, left, hosted by Israeli PM Netanyahu in his Jerusalem office, November 2017 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Kamala Harris, left, hosted by Israeli PM Netanyahu in his Jerusalem office, November 2017 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday spoke to US Vice President Kamala Harris, with the conversation focusing on the pandemic, the Iranian nuclear program, and the International Criminal Court’s decision to open an investigation into Israel over alleged war crimes, his office said.

The call, the first between them since the inauguration, came a day after the ICC announced it would investigate Israel and Palestinian terror groups over alleged war crimes and as the Biden administration seeks to reenter the Iran nuclear deal.

Netanyahu’s office said Harris “expressed the total opposition of the American administration to the decision by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.”

The US State Department has condemned the ICC’s decision and argued the court lacks the jurisdiction to launch a probe.

A demonstrator poses with a Palestinian flag outside the International Criminal Court, ICC, during a rally urging the court to prosecute Israel’s army for war crimes, in The Hague, Netherlands, November 29, 2019. (AP/Peter Dejong)

“The prime minister said we would continue to strengthen our intelligence and security cooperation and said during their conversation that as prime minister of Israel, he is totally committed to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons that are meant for our destruction,” his office said.

The readout from Harris’s office said the two agreed to continue cooperating on the Iran nuclear issue “and the regime’s dangerous regional behavior.”

US President Joe Biden has said he intends to re-enter the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, setting him and Netanyahu on a potential collision course. Netanyahu strongly opposed the deal when it was made, and hailed former president Donald Trump’s decision to quit it in 2018.

Harris also congratulated Netanyahu on Israel’s successful vaccine program, the PMO said, and the two agreed to boost cooperation between the US and Israel on the coronavirus, water, green energy and other initiatives.

Nearly 4.9 million Israelis have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and over 3.6 million got both shots as of Thursday night.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with then US vice president Joe Biden at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on March 9, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Harris’s readout made no mention of the kind words regarding the vaccine program, but did say that the vice president underscored the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to the US-Israel partnership [along with] the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.”

Another discrepancy in the readouts was on the regional peace process. Like Biden, Harris mentioned the importance of Israeli-Palestinian peace. But in both of the PMO’s readouts from the calls, the Palestinians went unmentioned.

Biden phoned Netanyahu in mid-February for the first time since he entered office.

Netanyahu was the first Middle Eastern leader to receive a call from Biden, but the 12th world leader overall. The long weeks of silence since Biden took office had led many to wonder whether the White House was snubbing its longtime ally, given Netanyahu’s frosty relationship with former Democratic president Barack Obama and his overwhelmingly warm ties with the more recent Donald Trump.