Israel warned world powers over the weekend that their weak approach toward Iran in the current nuclear negotiations in Vienna would lead to renewed violence in the Persian Gulf and Middle East, Israel Hayom reported Sunday.
The talks, which adjourned on Friday for at least ten days, have made little discernible progress since they resumed more than two weeks ago for the first time since Iran’s hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected in June.
The Israeli assessment was delivered in the wake of an agreement to postpone a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors. In exchange, Tehran will reinstall and operate IAEA cameras at the Karaj nuclear facility – which Iran removed after an apparent attack in June that the Islamic republic blames on Israel.
One of four IAEA cameras at Karaj was destroyed in the June incident. Iran removed all four cameras and showed them to the IAEA, but the destroyed camera’s data storage device was not included. The IAEA and Western powers have been asking Iran to explain, unsuccessfully so far.
“We have doubts about that and this is why we are asking, ‘Where is it?'” IAEA head Rafael Grossi told a news conference when asked if it was credible that the footage simply vanished.
“I am hopeful that they are going to come up with an answer because it’s very strange that it disappears,” he said.
The cameras are aimed at verifying Iran is not secretly siphoning off the parts for uranium-enriching centrifuges that are made there, but the footage will remain under seal in Iran, so the IAEA cannot view it for now, as has been the case at various locations since February.
The IAEA has not been able to verify whether Karaj has resumed operation but Grossi said, “it would be a logical conclusion” that advanced centrifuges recently installed at Fordo, a site buried inside a mountain, came from there.
Israeli officials believe the decision to forgo the IAEA Board of Governors meeting essentially squanders one of the last cards remaining to world powers in their negotiations with Iran. It was very important for the Iranians to prevent the IAEA meeting, as an anti-Iran decision could have led to a condemnation by the United Nations Security Council and even new sanctions. It should be noted that it was the United States threatening to convene the IAEA Board of Governors, while Russia secured the deal to postpone the meeting in exchange for the reinstallation of cameras at Karaj.
The Iranian concession pales in comparison to the IAEA’s concession, Israeli officials believe, and also leaves world powers with one last card to play – additional sanctions on Iran in the realistic scenario that nuclear talks fail. The chances of more international sanctions, however, are slim, as the West desperately wants to avoid escalating the situation with Iran.
This approach, according to Israeli officials, whereby world powers are unwilling to draw any red lines for Iran, will lead to violence. If the talks are not renewed or don’t lead to an agreement, they say, Iran will revert to attacking international targets in the Persian Gulf and the region in general. It will do this, the officials believe, to deter the West from imposing new sanctions and to improve its bargaining positions in any future talks.
“The international community has a heavy sword with which to threaten Iran, but is scared of using it and therefore isn’t brandishing it,” one Israeli official said.
In Washington, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the negotiations were “not going well” in that the United States did not yet have a path back into the deal.
Tehran’s envoys have sought changes to the outline of the agreement that had taken shape in six previous rounds of talks.
“We don’t have months, we rather have weeks to have an agreement,” European Union envoy Enrique Mora told a news conference after a meeting that formally ended the seventh round of talks. He said he hoped they would resume this year, while some officials have mentioned Dec. 27 as a tentative date.
Officials said Iran had requested the break, while Western powers had planned on staying until Tuesday.
Mora and other officials said Iranian demands had been incorporated into the existing text so as to have a common basis for negotiation, but three European powers that are parties to the 2015 deal sounded less optimistic.
“There has been some technical progress in the last 24 hours, but this only takes us back nearer to where the talks stood in June,” negotiators from France, Britain and Germany, the so-called E3, said in a statement, describing the break as “a disappointing pause in negotiations.”
The 2015 deal lifted sanctions against Tehran in return for tough restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities aimed at extending the time Tehran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb if it chose to – so-called breakout time – to at least a year from roughly two to three months.
Most experts now say breakout time is less than it was before the deal.
Speaking to a U.S. Council on Foreign Relations webinar, Sullivan said the negotiations have “proven more difficult over the course of this year than we would have liked to have seen” as Iran has “raced” its nuclear program forward.
Washington has conveyed through the Europeans and directly to Iran its “alarm” over the “forward progress” it has made, he continued, declining to elaborate on the details of those messages.
Iranian officials did not explain why they had requested a break other than to say there would be consultations in Tehran.
“If the other party accepts Iran’s logical views, the next round of talks can be the last round,” Iran’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani told reporters.