World Defense secretary says attack on Iranian nuclear site won't derail talks
U.S. 'Open' to First Direct Talks With Iran Since Trump Left Nuclear Deal 3 Years Ago
"We do not anticipate presently that there will be direct talks between the United States and Iran through this process, though the United States remains open to them," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in comments sent to Newsweek.Following virtual discussions on Friday, Iran and fellow signatories of the 2015 accord known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed they would welcome the U.S.'s return following Trump's unilateral exit in May 2018.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, on a visit to Jerusalem, demurred when asked if U.S. intelligence was involved in an attack that caused a serious setback to Iran’s nuclear enrichment goals Sunday, but he vowed the incident will not affect President Joe Biden’s effort to rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement.
Austin is on the second of a two-day visit to Israel, where he met with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The stopover, part of a four-country European swing, comes as the clock is running out on a decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and while Biden pursues an agreement with Iran that Israel is dead set against. It is unclear if Austin knew the Natanz nuclear facility would be targeted before he landed in Israel. The country has neither accepted nor denied responsibility for the incident.
The window of opportunity is closing fast on an Iran nuclear deal (Opinion)
The US has taken a giant step back into the world community by joining the Vienna talks on the Iran nuclear deal, writes David A. Andelman.With America joining the renewed talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear agreement shunned by Donald Trump, the United States has taken a giant step back into the global community of nations. Sadly, we are now reduced to playing a sharply weakened hand.
“In terms of, you know, our efforts to engage Iran in diplomacy on the JCPOA, those efforts will continue,” Austin told members of the press, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the name of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.
Last week, indirect talks involving Iran and the United States restarted with other parties to the agreement in Vienna.
Biden has repeatedly expressed his intent to rejoin the deal regarded by former President Donald Trump as “the worst deal ever” before he withdrew in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
Since the U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran, Iran’s economy has entered a tailspin. Iran, in turn, has tried to show leverage by violating the terms of the agreement and enriching uranium up to 20%.
Iran 'Will Definitely Respond' to Attack on Its Ship, Suspects U.S., Israel
The unclaimed attack comes as the U.S. and Iran appeared closer to nuclear deal negotiations for the first time since former President Donald Trump left the exit, sparking a wave of unrest in the Middle East and surrounding seas.Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi, a spokesperson for the Iranian armed forces, told Russia's state-run Sputnik news outlet that Iranian authorities were still investigating the reported limpet mine attack that struck the cargo ship MV Saviz, a vessel linked to the country's elite Revolutionary Guard. Once the source of the attack is established, retribution would follow, he said.
The explosion on Sunday, triggered by a blackout at the highly protected facility, will set that effort back by months,.
“My expectation is that we'll continue to focus on doing what the president's trying to achieve there,” Austin said when asked if the explosion would be an impediment to Biden’s effort to rejoin the agreement.
Austin did not answer a question about the involvement of U.S. intelligence in the alleged Israeli sabotage operation, instead focusing on his goals for the visit, which include assuring continued Israeli interoperability with U.S. forces now that the country is newly reassigned to the U.S. Central Command area of operation, and the continuing normalization of relations between Israel and other Arab and Muslim nations in the region with which the U.S. enjoys robust partnerships.
But White House press secretary Jen Psaki flatlyduring her daily press briefing back in Washington.
Iran reports 'power failure' accident at Natanz nuclear site
Iran reported an accident caused by a "power failure" Sunday at its uranium enrichment plant in Natanz, with one lawmaker blaming the outage on an act of "sabotage". No-one was injured and there was no radioactive release, the official Fars news agency reported, citing the spokesman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI). The incident came a day after the Islamic republic said it had started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges at the site, in a breach of its commitments under a troubled 2015 deal with world powers.
The U.S. and Israel are believed to have collaborated on the Stuxnet cyberweapon used to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities more than a decade ago, causing extensive damage to centrifuges.
Austin will next visit Germany before traveling on to Brussels for meetings with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as the alliance faces a decision on withdrawing from Afghanistan if a May 1 deadline related to the U.S. peace deal with the Taliban is to be kept. Austin might also discuss with Stoltenberg the alliance providing additional assistance to Ukraine as Russian forces mass along its eastern border.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will also travel to Brussels to join Austin for the meetings in what may be an indication that important decisions regarding Afghanistan and Ukraine may be forthcoming.
Austin will conclude his visit in the United Kingdom, another important defense partner involved in assisting Ukraine’s self-defense goals.
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What's going on with the Iran nuclear talks? .
Biden is trying to revive the international deal his predecessor walked away from, but the clock is ticking, and Iran is fuming over an attack on its nuclear infrastructure.President Joe Biden's administration wants to reverse his predecessor's unilateral withdrawal from the agreement, but the process was always going to be delicate. Sunday's attack on Iran's nuclear facility in Natanz has complicated things even further.