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Israel’s Foreign Minister in Europe as New Round of Iran Nuclear Talks Begins
Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, right, and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss signed a memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation in London on November 29, 2021. (Stuart Mitchell via Twitter)

Israel’s Foreign Minister in Europe as New Round of Iran Nuclear Talks Begins

‘Do not give in to Iran's nuclear blackmail’ is the message Yair Lapid is carrying to the UK and France

As negotiations got underway Monday in Vienna between Iran and the world powers to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett voiced concern about a possible agreement.

“Today, Iran will be arriving at negotiations in Vienna with a clear goal: to end sanctions in exchange for almost nothing. Iran won’t just keep its nuclear program; from today, they’ll be getting paid for it,” he said in a statement.

“Iran deserves no rewards, no bargain deals and no sanctions relief in return for their brutality. I call upon our allies around the world: Do not give in to Iran’s nuclear blackmail,” he also said.

Bennett announced Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting that he was sending his top diplomat to Europe for discussions with British and French leaders. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid arrived in London on Sunday.

“This is a message that we are conveying in every way, both to the Americans and to the other countries that are negotiating with Iran. The foreign minister will deliver the same message at his meetings in London and Paris this week,” Bennett told the Cabinet.

On Monday, the Iranian foreign ministry said its delegation was in Vienna “with a firm determination to reach an agreement and is looking forward to fruitful talks.”

“If the other side shows the same willingness, we will be on the right track to reach an agreement,” said ministry spokesman Said Khatibzadeh.

Tehran says it is “determined” to reach a deal.

Iran deserves no rewards, no bargain deals and no sanctions relief in return for their brutality

Iran suspended the negotiations in June after the election of an ultraconservative new president, Ebrahim Raisi.

Along with Iran, diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia are attending the Vienna talks. The United States will take part in the talks indirectly.

Last week, US Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley said Tehran’s attitude “doesn’t augur well for the talks.”

“If they start getting too close, too close for comfort, then, of course, we will not be prepared to sit idly by,” Malley told the US pubic broadcaster National Public Radio last week.

The 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, offered a lifting of some of the array of economic sanctions Iran had been under in return for strict curbs on its nuclear program. But the deal started to unravel in 2018 when then-US President Donald Trump pulled out and began reinstating sanctions on Iran. The following year, Iran retaliated by starting to exceed the limits on its nuclear activity that were laid down in the deal.

Dr. Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Media Line that Israel doesn’t believe the White House is as aggressive in its approach as it should be.

“This is the feeling in Israel, top down, that America is exhausted, and doesn’t have much to bargain about,” Rabi adds that Israel is afraid of the Americans “playing a weak hand” during the upcoming negotiations. He says an agreement similar to the historic 2015 accord will be “disastrous because it doesn’t deal with the problem itself.”

Khatibzadeh said on Monday that his country’s delegation to the Vienna talks will not hold any bilateral talks with the US delegation there.

After months of being idle, the new round of negotiations was set to kick off in Vienna, as Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was set to meet with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London on Monday, and with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Tuesday. He also met with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Monday.

Professor Mohammad Marandi, head of the American Studies Department at the University of Tehran, told The Media Line that Iranians are “quite indifferent with what the Israelis say, they are constantly throwing temper tantrums, they constantly express fear about Iran. I think that just simply shows how weak and vulnerable the Israeli regime actually is.”

Marandi says what’s important is not what the Israelis say, but what happens at the negotiating table between Iran and the other signatories to the nuclear deal. “Either Western countries accept implementing their obligations in the agreement in full or there’s no agreement.”

Israel must have plan B to maneuver on its own

US President Joe Biden has said he wants the US to return to the agreement, but Washington has accused Iran of making “radical” demands.

Marandi says there is “no sign that the US is changing under Biden.”

“He is pursuing the same barbaric and inhuman policy of his predecessor in the hope that he can force the Iranians to give in. That’s simply not going to happen,” he said.

He argues that these negotiations will not yield much.

“I’m not very optimistic about the [resumption] of negotiations; Iranians are not expecting a breakthrough,” he said.

The 2015 historic Iran nuclear agreement was designed to preclude the Islamic Republic from obtaining a nuclear arsenal by imposing strict limits on its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran thinks the Iranians “intend to drag out these talks as they calculate they can advance their nuclear program as leverage for more concessions at the negotiating table.”

Brodsky says previous approaches by the world powers have failed.

“The maximum carrots and minimum sticks approach that has been employed over the past few months by the US and the E3 (France, Germany, and the UK) has emboldened Tehran to think this way,” he said.

Rabi says if an agreement is reached, Israel could resort to doing three things.

First, he said, is a “diplomatic campaign trying to convince the Americans and Europeans to take a tougher stance. Second, coming up with attacks on Iran … military or cyber to force Iran to rethink its policy regarding the negotiations and its activities in the region.” Third, Rabi says, “Israel must have plan B to maneuver on its own.”

 

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