Several Western diplomats on Sunday said Iran was now between four to six weeks away from the “breakout time” it needs to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, although they cautioned it was still about two years from being able to weaponize it.
The warning came as world powers and Iran expect to return to Vienna on Monday for a last-ditch effort to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal, but few expect a breakthrough as Tehran’s atomic activities rumble on in an apparent bid to gain leverage against the West.
Diplomats say time is running low to resurrect the original deal with world powers – the US, Great Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
Israel is worried Iran will secure a windfall in sanctions relief but will not sufficiently roll back projects with bomb-making potential.
“Israel is very worried about the readiness to remove the sanctions and to allow a flow of billions [of dollars] to Iran in exchange for unsatisfactory restrictions in the nuclear realm,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told his cabinet in televised remarks on Sunday.
“This is the message that we are relaying in every manner, whether to the Americans or to the other countries negotiating with Iran,” he said.
Israel, which is not a party to the talks, opposed the original 2015 pact as too limited in scope and duration. Israeli leaders have long threatened military action against Iran if they deem diplomacy a dead end for denying it nuclear weaponry.
“[Iran’s nuclear] progress is so significant that it’s essentially impossible to turn back the clock in its nuclear program to the point it was two or three years ago,” a senior Israeli official said. “There’s an accumulation of knowledge that cannot be erased. For example, they now know how to enrich uranium to 60% level. This isn’t something that can be reversed. They are also enriching uranium intensively, which they didn’t do before. They have accumulated assets.”
Meanwhile, Britain and Israel on Sunday vowed to “work night and day” to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, the foreign ministers of the two countries wrote in a joint article that appeared in the Telegraph newspaper.
“The clock is ticking, which heightens the need for close cooperation with our partners and friends to thwart Tehran’s ambitions,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and his UK counterpart Liz Truss wrote.
The two countries were also expected to sign a 10-year agreement on Monday to work closely on areas such as cybersecurity, technology, trade and defense, according to the Telegraph.
The foreign ministers added in the article that Israel will officially become Britain’s “tier one” cyber partner, in a bid to improve its cyber defenses as countries around the world face increased threats.
Tehran’s new negotiating team, meanwhile, has set out demands that US and European diplomats consider unrealistic. They are insisting that all US and EU sanctions imposed since 2017, including those unrelated to its nuclear program, be dropped.
Tehran’s conflicts with the UN atomic watchdog, which monitors the nuclear program, have festered. Iran has pressed ahead with its uranium enrichment program and the IAEA says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to reinstall monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.
“They are doing enough technically so they can change their basic relationship with the West to be able to have a more equal dialogue in the future,” said a Western diplomat involved in the talks.
Two European diplomats said it seemed Iran was simply playing for time to accumulate more material and know-how.
Western diplomats said they will head to Monday’s talks on the premise that they resume where they left off in June. They have warned that if Iran continues with its maximalist positions and fails to restore its cooperation with the IAEA, they will have to quickly review their options.
Iran’s top negotiator and foreign minister both repeated on Friday that full sanctions lifting would be the only thing on the table in Vienna.
“If this is the position that Iran continues to hold on Monday, then I don’t see a negotiated solution,” said one of the European diplomats.
Should the talks collapse, the likelihood is the United States and its allies will initially confront Iran at the IAEA next month by calling for an emergency meeting.
However, they will also want to try to keep Russia, which has a political influence on Iran, and China, which provides economic breathing space to Tehran through oil purchases, on their side as they initially seek alternative diplomatic options.
One scenario diplomats say Washington has suggested is negotiating an open-ended interim accord with Tehran as long as a permanent deal isn’t achieved. However, they say this would take time and there is no certainty the Islamic republic has any appetite for it.
“Iran may calculate that its unconstrained nuclear advances and unmonitored centrifuge production will put more pressure on the West to give ground in talks quickly,” Eurasia analyst Henry Rome said in a note.
“But it will likely have the opposite effect, signaling that the new Iranian team does not have an interest in resolving the nuclear issue and hastening the switch toward a more coercive policy next year,” he said.
On Saturday, meanwhile, a top-level spokesperson for Iran’s armed forces called for the destruction of Israel during an interview with a state-run media outlet.
“We will not back off from the annihilation of Israel, even one millimeter,” Brig. Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi told the Iranian Students News Agency. “We want to destroy Zionism in the world.”
Shekarchi also denounced the diplomatic ties established with Israel by Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, dubbing the moves “intolerable.”
Bahrain and the UAE agreed to normalize relations with Israel in 2020 under the Abraham Accords, which led to subsequent normalization agreements with Sudan and Morocco.
Source » israelhayom