US, Iran recommit to indirect talks after sabotage attack on nuclear site

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu give a statement after their meeting

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu give a statement after their meeting

In May 2018, then-President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Obama-era pact, raising tensions with Iran and setting off a series of events that raised fears of a new war in the Middle East. Israel, which views Iran as a threat, has consistently been a vocal opponent of the JCPOA and any efforts to restore the pact.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Israeli broadcaster Channel 12 reported an Israeli-owned ship had been attacked by Iran in the Gulf of Oman off the coast of the United Arab Emirates near Fujairah. US military officials declined to comment and Emirati officials did not acknowledge any incident there.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, blamed Israel and called the act a "desperate move" and "nuclear terrorism", reported the AP. However, the nuclear deal prevented it from having enough of a uranium stockpile to be able to pursue a nuclear weapon.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, re-imposing strict sanctions and pushing to destroy the agreement.

Abbas Araqchi, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, told Press TV that Iran will begin 60% uranium enrichment starting tomorrow. "We will not allow this act of sabotage to affect the nuclear talks".

Pompeo explained that the Democrats have been fixated on establishing a nuclear deal with Iran since the Obama administration which Trump counteracted with the Abraham Accords, bringing peace throughout the region.

Tehran has said an explosion on Sunday at its key nuclear site was an act of sabotage by arch-foe Israel.

In contrast, the Democratic senators on Tuesday called for follow-on negotiations to address these issues after restoring the nuclear deal.

Inc. shows Iran's Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday
Inc. shows Iran's Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday

"We were realistic about the world", he said. "For this reason, Iran's enrichment will not be limited to 20%, and we will take whatever action is necessary for the country".

Iran says it's going to enrich uranium to 60% purity, much closer to weapons-grade levels (90%). However, the Islamic Republic now has no such ships in its navy. Last July, there was a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge production plant, while in November, Iran accused Israel of assassinating a nuclear scientist who launched its military nuclear program years ago. However, no other official has offered that figure and no images of the aftermath have been released. Israel is widely believed to have carried out the assault that damaged centrifuges, though it has not claimed it.

But Iran's top diplomat, Javad Zarif, in tweets suggested that Sunday's attack at Natanz would give Iran more leverage in the talks.

"The United States should know that neither sanctions nor sabotage will give them the means to negotiate and that they will only make the situation more hard for them", Zarif said. "They should know that these actions would only make the situation hard for them".

More than two dozen Democratic senators have voiced support for the Iran nuclear deal, endorsing the "compliance for compliance" approach to revive the agreement, which would ensure sanctions relief for Tehran if it lives up to its commitments under the pact.

"What happened in Natanz makes it possible for Iran to legally do whatever it takes to. compensate for this terrorist stupidity", said Zarif. But the announcement that it would enrich uranium further shows how pressure has been growing within Iran's theocracy over how to respond to the attack.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration has maintained there will be no sanctions relief until Iran complies with the deal again, though the State Department said last week that the U.S. is willing to lift sanctions "inconsistent" with the accord.

Rouhani met later Tuesday with Lavrov and stressed the importance of all parties returning to the deal.

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