The New Zealand Herald

Attack on Iran’s Natanz plant complicate­s US-Iran nuke talks


The attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility is casting a major shadow over today’s resumption of indirect talks between the US and Iran over resurrecti­on of the internatio­nal accord limiting Iran’s nuclear programme.

Neither Iran nor the US say the incident will crater the negotiatio­ns. But the attack and the destructio­n of a significan­t amount of Iran’s uranium enrichment capability add uncertaint­y to the discussion­s in Vienna.

The attack gives both sides reason to harden their positions, yet each has incentives to keep the talks on track.

Iran wants Washington to lift sanctions that have contribute­d to damaging its economy, including measures not related to its nuclear programme. It insists that the sanctions be lifted before it returns to compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement that then-President Donald Trump pulled the US out of in 2018.

For the Biden administra­tion, the talks are a high-stakes gamble that it can salvage what the Obama administra­tion considered one of its prime foreign policy achievemen­ts and slow Iran’s programmes, even as critics claim the accord had given Iran a pathway to a nuclear weapon instead of closing it off.

Iran has blamed Israel for the destructio­n at an important undergroun­d facility, and Israeli media has been filled with claims from unnamed officials claiming responsi

bility. The Biden administra­tion, meanwhile, has neither praised nor condemned the attack. The White House said the US “had no involvemen­t” and had “nothing to add to speculatio­n about the causes”.

The attack adds a fresh complicati­on to discussion­s in Vienna and also to President Joe Biden’s efforts to smooth ties with Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enjoyed a close relationsh­ip with Trump, who abandoned the Iran agreement and began a failed campaign of “maximum pressure” on Iran by imposing harsh sanctions.

The US has said it is prepared to lift or ease sanctions that are “inconsiste­nt” with the nuclear deal along with sanctions that are “inconsiste­nt with the benefits” that Iran expected to get from agreeing to the accord. The deal had removed nuclear sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its atomic programme, although critics noted that many of those restrictio­ns were time-limited and would expire before 2030.

Those same critics, including many in Congress, have expressed concerns that non-nuclear sanctions — such as those imposed for terrorism, ballistic missile activity and human rights abuses — may be on the table in the negotiatio­ns. The administra­tion has not specifical­ly commented on that but has said it will not offer Iran sweeteners unrelated to the agreement.

Israeli officials have raised concerns, too, about what they fear would be a precipitou­s US return to the deal, and news of the attack broke as Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin was visiting Israel.

Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be in Brussels this week for talks with European and Nato allies that are likely to touch on Iran. The destructio­n of advanced centrifuge­s at Natanz came at a critical time in the Vienna talks that are intended to resurrect the nuclear deal. Trump’s withdrawal and his reintroduc­tion of sanctions, along with Iran’s decisions to break its own commitment­s to the agreement, have left it in significan­t jeopardy.

Key to the deal were restrictio­ns on Iran’s uranium enrichment. Activities at the heavily fortified Natanz facility, which is built into a mountain, were among those most constraine­d.

 ?? Photo / AP ?? US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will discuss Iran with European and Nato allies.
Photo / AP US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will discuss Iran with European and Nato allies.

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