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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Blinken: US to continue consultations with Israel over return to nuclear deal


Israel has been a vocal opponent of the US’ return to the 2015 nuclear deal, with Iran accusing it of trying to sabotage the revival of the accord.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised to continue “close consultations” with Israel over its potential return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA], the Washington official said during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.

The US official made the comments in Tel Aviv amid a Middle East tour to follow up on the Qatar and Egypt-brokered ceasefire in Gaza following an 11-day Israeli bombardment of the besieged city.

Blinken said he discussed with the Israeli official the ongoing Vienna talks, which aim to push the US to return to the deal following former US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal in 2018.

Following the meeting, Netanyahu said he hoped the US would not sign the deal again warning that “whatever happens, Israel will always retain the right to defend itself” against any Iranian nuclear threat.

“I hope that the United States will not go back to the old JCPOA, because we believe that deal paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons with international legitimacy,” said Netanyahu.

Earlier on Sunday, Blinken said the US has not determined whether Iran will comply with its nuclear commitments in order to lift the sanctions imposed following the withdrawal of the deal.

Read also: Iran extends nuclear monitoring deal for a month

Ongoing tensions between Iran and Israel flared up following the attack on the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, with Tehran blaming Tel Aviv for carrying out the ambush.

Iran retaliated to the attack by increasing its nuclear enrichment to 60% though it  said that the decision does not involve the development of weapons but rather the production of molybdenum to manufacture radiopharmaceuticals.

Progress in Vienna talks

Meanwhile the Vienna talks, which commenced in April, have been reporting progress following years of heightened US-Iran tensions under the leadership of the Trump administration.

Shortly before the fifth round of the Vienna talks this week, Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], the UN’s nuclear watchdog, that it will extend the monitoring deal for a month after its expiry.

According to Reuters, Iran’s representative at the UN in Vienna, Kazem Gharibabadi, said no data from the past three-month monitoring period or from next month will be handed over to the IAEA.

This followed Iran’s announcement on May 23 that the monitoring deal had expired, ceasing the IAEA’s access to images from some Iranian nuclear sites. This raised questions regarding the fate of the ongoing Vienna talks.

The three-month monitoring agreement was initially signed in February when the head of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, visited Iran to monitor its nuclear activities, with hopes to lift sanctions imposed by former President Trump.

It remains unclear whether or not the talks have ended or not, but its members China, France, Russia, the UK and Germany, have been reporting signs of progress.

The nuclear deal came into effect in 2015 during the Barack Obama Administration, when US President Joe Biden was the vice president.

Since his election, Biden has expressed his keenness to restore the deal.

Qatar has also offered to mediate between the US and Iran, saying that it will “spare no efforts” to ensure that the JCPOA is restored.

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