‘Nuclear Blackmail’: Israel Calls for End of Iran Talks in Vienna After IAEA Revelations
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged the United States to “immediately” halt ongoing indirect talks in Vienna between Iran and world powers, following fresh revelations of Tehran’s uranium enrichment violations.
“Iran is carrying out ‘nuclear blackmail’ as a negotiation tactic and this must be met with an immediate cessation of negotiations and by concrete steps taken by the major powers,” Bennett told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a phone conversation.
During the call, Bennett cited the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report released on Wednesday, which stated that Iran has begun the process of enriching uranium to the level of 20 percent purity with advanced centrifuges at its Fordow underground facility.
In reaction to Israel’s demand, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh tweeted: “As Vienna talks advance, the Israeli regime shows its true colors again, calling for immediate halt of negotiations. Not surprising. Dialogue is always despised by the regime whose genesis is based on war, tension & terror.”
“Delegates in Vienna won’t take instruction from Beit Aghion,” Khatibzadeh continued, referring to the Israeli prime minister’s residence.
Bennett’s office said that the conversation with Blinken focused mainly on the Iranian nuclear program. With Israel watching from afar the talks in Vienna, which resumed on Monday, Blinken updated Bennett on the seventh round of negotiations between Iran and parties to the 2015 nuclear deal. In 2018, the Trump Administration withdrew from the nuclear pact, which required Iran to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the relief of economic sanctions.
Israel has in recent days warned about lifting sanctions on Iran and argued that Tehran is seeking to buy time to move forward with its nuclear program.
Speaking at an award ceremony for Mossad intelligence agents, the head of the agency, David Barnea, remarked that “Iran will never have a nuclear weapon, not in the coming years, not ever; that’s my commitment, that’s the commitment of the Mossad.”
Meanwhile, ahead of his visit to Washington next week to discuss Iran’s nuclear advances with his US counterparts, Defense Minister Benny Gantz again called for backup plans should diplomatic efforts fail.
“There will be a point in time when the region and the State of Israel will have no choice but to act,” Gantz told the Hebrew news site Ynet. “The military option must always be on the table. It is of course the last thing we want to use but we don’t have the right not to prepare for that option.”
Bennett and Blinken also discussed the handling of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office stated, as well as funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and the controversial construction project planned at Atarot in eastern Jerusalem.
Blinken reiterated America’s commitment to Israel’s security and discussed regional issues, including Iran, and settlement activity concerns, the US State Department said.
“The Secretary also strongly emphasized that Israel and the Palestinian Authority should refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, including advancing settlement activity,” according to a readout by State Department spokesperson Ned Price.