Mossad chief heads to US as Iran nuclear talks stall

David Barnea to reportedly press top Biden administration officials not to seek an interim deal, is also expected to present Americans with new intel on Iranian nuke program

By TOI STAFFToday, 6:03 amUpdated at 7:55 am  

Mossad chief David Barnea at a ceremony marking his taking the helm of the agency, on June 1, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Mossad chief David Barnea at a ceremony marking his taking the helm of the agency, on June 1, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Mossad chief David Barnea was due to travel Sunday to Washington to discuss Iran with senior Biden administration officials.

The trip comes days after the halt of renewed negotiations to restore the 2015 accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, with the United States saying the Iranians did not appear serious about reaching an agreement.

The Haaretz daily reported that Barnea will seek to convince the US leadership not to seek an interim deal that would not see Iran return to full compliance with the agreement, and instead seek to enlist international support for tough sanctions on Tehran.

The newspaper said the meetings have been described as “extremely significant.”

The spy chief will stress that if an agreement with Iran is ultimately reached, Israel will not be bound by it and will continue with efforts to thwart the Islamic Republic’s nuclear work, according to the Ynet news site.Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Editionby email and never miss our top storiesNewsletter email addressGET ITBy signing up, you agree to the terms

Barnea, who will be acting as an emissary for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, also reportedly plans to present the Americans with new information on Iran’s program.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz will visit the US later in the week for talks also expected to focus on Iran.

Barnea’s trip follows his vow Thursday that Iran will never acquire nuclear arms. He also said a bad deal between Tehran and world powers would be “intolerable” for Israel.The flag of Iran waves in front of the the International Center building with the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, in Vienna, AustriaI, May 24, 2021 (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter, FILE)

Senior Israeli officials have criticized the approach of the United States to nuclear talks with Iran, but see the current pause in discussions as a window of opportunity to influence the negotiations, the Haaretz daily reported Sunday.

An unnamed source told the newspaper that the US was surprised by how extreme Iran’s demands were in the restarted talks last week, with Tehran insisting on a list of conditions for returning to a nuclear agreement as well as the lifting of all sanctions and a pledge that they will not be reimposed in the near future.

Sources further said that removing the threat of sanctions would leave the international community without one of the most significant tools it has for keeping Iran to any potential deal.

However, a separate political source told Haaretz that they increasingly believed that the talks would not reach an immediate agreement, but that instead there would be an easing of current commitments.

“In the coming days we will see if the world powers go in the direction of a crisis with Iran or in the direction of flexibility,” he said.

On Saturday, a US official said Iran had backed away from all its previous compromises on reviving the 2015 nuclear pact and that Iran would not be allowed to “slow walk” the international negotiations while simultaneously ramping up its atomic activities, as well as dismissing a rift with Israel on the matter of the discussions.

“We can’t accept a situation in which Iran accelerates its nuclear program and slow walks its nuclear diplomacy,” said the senior US administration official — echoing a recent warning by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Speaking to reporters after returning from Vienna, the official said Washington was not yet planning to walk away from the indirect talks that it resumed with Tehran last week in the Austrian capital, but hoped Iran would return “with a serious attitude.”

In this week’s talks, said the official, Iran backtracked on all the compromises it had made in months of previous talks on reviving the accord, while retaining the compromises made by others and seeking more.

Iran came to Vienna “with proposals that walked back anything – any of the compromises Iran had floated here in the six rounds of talks, pocket all of the compromises that others, and the US in particular, had made, and then asked for more,” the senior official was quoted as saying by Reuters.

He said it was not clear when the talks would resume, and that Washington was “preparing for a world in which there is no return to the JCPOA,” a reference to the deal’s official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

He said more sanctions would likely come if Washington concludes that Iran had killed the negotiations.

The seventh round of nuclear talks ended Friday after five days in Vienna, with delegations returning to their national capitals and expected to go back to Austria this week.Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani is seen leaving the Coburg Palais, venue of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) meeting aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, on December 3, 2021 (Joe Klamar/AFP)

Iran’s lead negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, said the talks were paused “since the opposite side needed to consult with their capitals to provide a documented and reasonable response to these [Iranian] proposals.”

Blinken said Friday that the negotiations were halted because “Iran right now does not seem to be serious about doing what’s necessary to return to compliance.”

European diplomats expressed “disappointment and concern” after Iran submitted two draft proposals that appeared to undo months of dialogue.

Iran had paused the talks in June following the election of ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi.

The official argued Saturday that the US had shown patience in allowing a five-month break in the process, but that during that time the Iranians were “continuing to accelerate their nuclear program in particularly provocative ways.”

When Tehran finally returned to the table on Monday, he said, it was “with proposals that walked back any of the compromises that Iran had floated during the six rounds of talks.”

He accused Iran of seeking to “pocket all of the compromises that others — the US in particular — had made and then ask for more.”The Coburg Palais, the venue of the Iran nuclear talks, is pictured in Vienna, on November 29, 2021. (Vladimir Simicek/AFP)

The official said he believed countries that are close to Iran were also vexed by Tehran’s positions at the recent talks.

At this stage, he said the US will pursue its efforts at diplomacy — but reasserted it has “other tools” at its disposal should negotiations fail.

The landmark 2015 nuclear accord — initially agreed between Britain, China, France, Germany Iran, Russia and the US — began unraveling in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump pulled out and reimposed sanctions, prompting Iran to start exceeding limits on its nuclear program the following year.

US President Joe Biden has said he wants to re-enter the deal, and the US has been participating in this week’s talks indirectly.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is peaceful.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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