Bennett to IAEA chief: Israel reserves right to act against Iran’s nuclear program

Hosting Rafael Grossi for talks, PM urges use of ‘all means’ to prevent Tehran from getting nukes, accuses Islamic Republic of concealing atomic work with ‘false info and lies’

By TOI STAFF and AGENCIES3 June 2022, 12:21 pm 

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) meets with Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on June 3, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Friday with the visiting head of the UN’s atomic watchdog for talks focused on Iran’s nuclear program.

A statement from Bennett’s office said the premier warned International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi that Iran was pushing ahead on developing a nuclear weapon while misleading the world with “false information and lies” to conceal its work.

Bennett stressed the “urgent need” to confront Iran using “all means” to prevent it from acquiring nuclear arms, according to the Prime Minister’s Office. He also called for the IAEA to send Tehran a “clear and unequivocal message” at an upcoming Board of Governors meeting dealing with undeclared Iranian nuclear sites.

“Bennett made it clear that while Israel prefers diplomacy in order to deny Iran the possibility of developing nuclear weapons, it reserves the right to self-defense and to take action against Iran in order to block its nuclear program should the international community not succeed in the relevant timeframe,” the statement said.

Grossi, who was returning to Vienna after the meeting, said he and Bennett had “important exchanges on topical issues.”

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“I stressed the importance of IAEA safeguards and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) for global peace and security,” Grossi tweeted.

Israel, widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, is not a member of the NPT.

Grossi’s trip came as Israel has expressed growing concerns about Iran’s atomic activities and any potential return to the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers. Negotiations to restore the accord remain deadlocked after stalling in March, with a main sticking point being Iran’s demand — rejected by Washington — that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the ideological arm of the Iranian military, be removed from a US terrorism blacklist.

Earlier this week, the Israeli prime minister accused Iran of stealing classified documents from the IAEA and using them to deceive international inspectors nearly two decades ago. He released what he said were some of the documents in question. Iran has dismissed the allegations as lies.

Israel was a staunch opponent of the 2015 nuclear deal and welcomed the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement, which caused it to collapse. However, a number of current and former security officials have begun saying that the withdrawal was a mistake, as it has led to Iran accelerating its nuclear enrichment efforts.

The Biden administration has been trying to renew the accord, which lifted sanctions on Iran in return for limits to and oversight of its nuclear program.

Iran has always said its nuclear activities are for purely peaceful purposes but has stepped up uranium enrichment after the collapse of the nuclear accord to near weapons-grade levels.

US intelligence agencies, Western nations and the IAEA have said Iran ran an organized nuclear weapons program until 2003. Neither the US nor Israel has ruled out the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

The flag of Iran waves in front of the International Center building with the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, in Vienna, Austria, on May 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter, File)

Earlier this week, the IAEA published a report estimating that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium had grown to more than 18 times the limit agreed on in the troubled 2015 pact known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The UN’s nuclear watchdog also said it still had questions that were “not clarified” regarding undeclared nuclear material previously found at three sites — Marivan, Varamin and Turquzabad, a district of Tehran, previously identified by Israel as an alleged site of secret atomic activity.

Both American and Israeli officials have assessed that Iran now needs only a few weeks to amass enough fissile material for a bomb, should it choose to make one, though it would need additional time to assemble the device’s other components.

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