PM: Iran can’t both negotiate and enrich uranium, must pay price for violating deal


Bennett says hiatus in talks should be used to convince US to deploy ‘a different basket of tools’

By TOI STAFFToday, 1:18 pm  

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, on December 5, 2021. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds a cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, on December 5, 2021. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday that Iran must be penalized for violating the nuclear deal, and that Tehran must be told it cannot hold negotiations for a potential new agreement while it continues to enrich uranium.

“Iran must start paying the price for its violations,” Bennett said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, as he called on those engaged in talks with Tehran to “stick to a firm line and make it clear to Iran that it is impossible to simultaneously enrich uranium and negotiate.”

Bennett also said that the Iranians were negotiating “skillfully.”

“The goal of the Iranian regime is the removal of sanctions, and so they came to [the nuclear talks in] Vienna with dozens of advisers and experts in the field of sanctions, because that is their goal,” he said. “They want the ability to do what they are doing now — in the fields of terrorism and nukes — but with the backing of tens of billions of dollars.”

Bennett added, “During the talks in Vienna we got an example of the nuclear blackmail I was talking about when it was reported that [Iran] had started enriching uranium by 20 percent in advanced centrifuges in the underground facility in Fordo. This is a very serious step.”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

He was referring to his conversation last week with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, during which, the Prime Minister’s Office said, the premier told Blinken that Iran was utilizing “nuclear blackmail” as a tactic and that the United States should therefore immediately stop negotiations.US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a press conference during an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) meeting, in Stockholm, Sweden, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021. (Jonathan Nackstrand/Pool Photo via AP)

The International Atomic Energy Agency said last week that Iran had begun the process of enriching uranium with advanced centrifuges at its Fordo plant in what would be a further violation of the multilateral nuclear accord that world powers are rushing to salvage.

Bennett also said that the window between rounds of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers should be used to get the United States to utilize “a different basket of tools” against Tehran.

Nuclear negotiations in Vienna came to a halt on Friday with Western countries saying Iran had come to the talks with unrealistic proposals.

The landmark 2015 nuclear accord — initially agreed upon by Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the US and Iran — began unraveling in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump pulled out and reimposed sanctions, while Iran began to publicly breach the deal. Israel has vowed that it will not allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons.

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.

Mossad chief David Barnea was due to travel Sunday to Washington to discuss Iran with senior Biden administration officials.Mossad chief David Barnea at a ceremony marking his taking the helm of the agency, on June 1, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Haaretz reported that Barnea will attempt 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 try to enlist international support for tough sanctions on Tehran.

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. Barnea also reportedly plans to present the Americans with new information on Iran’s program.

Additionally, Defense Minister Benny Gantz will visit the US later in the week for talks with his American counterpart Lloyd Austin as well as with Blinken, which are also expected to focus on Iran.

Bennett’s comments at the cabinet meeting came a day after a blast in the vicinity of an Iranian nuclear site. The explosion on Saturday was heard in the skies over the Iranian city of Badroud, 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Natanz nuclear plant.Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (screenshot, Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting – IRIB, via AP)

Several media outlets said the explosion was not an attack, but rather was caused by a missile as part of a test of air defenses’ response to a potential attack. Some of the reports said a drone was shot down.

Deputy Defense Minister Alon Schuster on Sunday refrained from directly answering questions about a blast in the vicinity of an Iranian nuclear site a day earlier, only asserting he “can’t say” what hit Natanz.

“We hope the whole world will be mobilized for the mission. For that, we’ve allocated a significant sum to increase our readiness. What hit Natanz? I can’t say,” Schuster said.

Israel has reportedly approved a budget of some NIS 5 billion ($1.5 billion) to be used to prepare the military for a potential strike against Iran’s nuclear program. It includes funds for various types of aircraft, intelligence-gathering drones and unique armaments needed for such an attack, which would have to target heavily fortified underground sites.

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