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Iran hardens its negotiation stance in Vienna talks

What happened: Israeli leaders continued to express grave concern over Iran’s nuclear ambition.

  • At yesterday’s cabinet meeting Prime Minister Naftali Bennett noted: “The first round of talks between Iran and the major powers in Vienna has ended without results. The Iranians, as expected, are proficient negotiators. They backtracked from previous agreements and came with a very strong and thuggish approach.”
  • He continued: “An example of the nuclear blackmail that I spoke about: During the talks, we received reports that they had begun to enrich up to 20 per cent purity in advanced centrifuges at Fordo. This is a very serious step. I call on every country negotiating with Iran in Vienna to take a strong line and make it clear to Iran that it is impossible to negotiate and enrich uranium at the same time … our goal is to utilise the window of opportunity that has opened between the rounds in order to tell our friends in the US: This is precisely the time to use a different toolkit against Iran’s galloping forward in the enrichment sphere.”
  • Bennett warned that “Iran must start paying for its violations. The goal of the Iranian regime is the lifting of sanctions. For this they went to Vienna with dozens of advisors and sanctions experts, because this is their goal: The ability to do what they are doing now regarding terrorism and in the nuclear sphere, only this time they want to be strengthened by tens of billions of dollars and a tailwind for all of their activity. We are holding an intensive dialogue on this matter with the Americans, the British, the French, Russia and others.”
  • Also yesterday, President Herzog received the credentials of the new US Ambassador Thomas Nides. Herzog related to the Iranian threat saying: “We are closely following the international community’s recent negotiations with Iran. Israel will welcome a comprehensive, diplomatic solution which permanently solves the Iranian nuclear threat. In the case of a failure to achieve such solution, Israel is keeping all options on the table and it must be said that if the international community does not take a vigorous stance on this issue, Israel will do so. Israel will protect itself.”

Context: The seventh round of talks in Vienna ended on Friday with Iran hardening it stance and no progress made.

  • According to US State Department statement on Friday, “the first six rounds of negotiations made progress, finding creative compromise solutions to many of the hardest issues that were difficult for all sides. Iran’s approach this week was not, unfortunately, to try to resolve the remaining issues”.
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken added: “Iran, right now, does not seem to be serious about doing what’s necessary to return to compliance, which is why we ended this round of talks in Vienna.”
  • The tougher line taken by the Iranians during the latest talks stems from the hard-line position directed by Iran’s new President Raisi.
  • After the talks ended on Friday, a senior Iranian official said that the lifting of all US sanctions placed under President Trump remains the main issue stumbling block between the sides and that progress cannot be finalised until this issue is clarified. The official also responded to Western concern that Iran is escalating nuclear programme while negotiating in Vienna, saying: “One cannot expect Iran to stop its compensatory steps – which were not a first step but a response to sanctions – until the manner of lifting sanctions is clarified and implemented.”
  • Oded Granot in Israel Hayom, described Iran’s position as three no’s: “No to an interim agreement (less for less), which would entail a suspension of some nuclear activity in exchange for lifting some of the sanctions; no to a broader agreement, which would include restrictions on the production of ballistic missiles and Iran’s subversive activity across the Middle East; and no to an agreement that would not guarantee that all sanctions currently imposed on Iran would be lifted, including sanctions that are unrelated to the JCPOA.”
  • Former MK Ofer Shelach wrote this morning in Yediot Ahronot that a nuclear Iran “is liable to precipitate a nuclear arms race and to grant our enemies in the closest circle a sense of invulnerability, and place devastating nuclear capability in the hands of a fanatical regime. Israel must do everything within its power to prevent that from happening”.
  • Meanwhile, a blast was reported Saturday in the vicinity of the nuclear site in Natanz. According to early media reports, the explosion was not an attack but rather was caused by a missile as part of a test of air defences around the site. However, other reports suggested a drone was shot down.

Looking ahead: Israel is hoping to reach an understanding with the US on a plan B if negotiations fail.

  • The head of Mossad, David Barnea, is in the US where he will meet with officials and members of the US intelligence community to share latest intelligence on Iran.
  • Defence Minister Gantz will join Barnea later in the week. According to Channel 12 News Israel could push the US to increase economic sanctions or even military strikes on Iranian military positions in Yemen.
  • Secretary Blinken also warned on Friday: “If the path to a return to compliance with the agreement turns out to be a dead-end, we will pursue other options.”

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