World Iran nuclear site 'sabotaged'; what about 2015 accord?
Iran talks set up delicate dance for Biden team
The Biden administration is moving forward on steps to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, with officials set to participate in high level discussions with signatories to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna next week. The U.S. and Iran are not expected to meet face to face, although administration officials have said they remain open to direct talks. The Vienna meeting marks the most forward movement for the Biden team, which will engage with European, Russian and Chinese counterparts over what steps the U.S. can take to achieve a "mutual return" for both America and Iran.
Iran has accused its nemesis Israel of sabotaging a nuclear enrichment facility purportedly hit by an explosion a day after President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated advanced uranium centrifuges.
What do we know about what happened early on Sunday at Natanz, the nerve centre of Iran's atomic programme?
And is dialogue scheduled to resume in Vienna aimed at salvaging the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers still viable?
US, Iran expected to begin indirect nuclear talks in Vienna
VIENNA (AP) — Efforts to bring the United States back into the 2015 deal on Iran's nuclear program are to step up a gear on Tuesday as Iran and the five world powers remaining in the accord meet in Vienna while the U.S. is due to start indirect talks with Tehran. Friday's announcement that Washington and Tehran would begin indirect talks through intermediaries was one of the first signs of tangible progress in efforts to return both nations to the terms of the accord, which bound Iran to restrictions in return for relief from U.S. and international sanctions. Then-President Donald Trump pulled the U.S.
- What happened? -
Ascertaining this is fraught with pitfalls, not least when Iranian authorities have at times offered contradictory narratives, having initially described Sunday's incident as an "accident".
Also, while keen to display Saturday's inauguration of more powerful centrifuges, Iranian media have not published any post-incident video images or photographs of the site.
The "sabotage occurred in a duct of power cables leading to the centrifuge machines which caused damage to this system", government spokesman Ali Rabiei said Tuesday.
"This was not an external attack and the location of the sabotage has been clearly determined," he added.
The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said the previous day a "small explosion" had hit the plant's electricity distribution centre, causing damage that would be quickly repaired.
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.
But Iran's foreign ministry accused Israel of an act of "terrorism" and vowed vengeance at a time and place of Tehran's choosing.
The New York Times, quoting unnamed US and Israeli intelligence officials, also said there had been "an Israeli role" in the attack.
The paper said an explosion had "completely destroyed" the power system that fed the site's "underground centrifuges".
Washington denied any involvement.
- Why is Natanz important? -
The Natanz nuclear site is a key centre for Iran's nuclear programme and is kept under extremely high security.
The 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran, the five permanent UN Security Council powers and Germany placed key restrictions on the Islamic republic's nuclear programme in return for lifting sanctions.
It capped uranium enrichment -- measured by the presence of fissile isotope Uranium-235 -- at 3.67 percent.
It also limited the number of so-called first-generation centrifuges, the only type permitted.
How Republicans Can Stop Biden from Lifting Iran Sanctions
Instead of diluting their principles, congressional Republicans should use every available procedural tool to force tough votes. Finally, Republicans should make clear that they will swiftly reimpose any sanctions relief provided to Iran by the Biden administration if they retake control of Congress in 2022 or the White House in 2024. Representative Mike Gallagher (R.,Wisc.) and Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) introduced resolutions in the House and Senate opposing any lifting of Iran sanctions.
But Iran has been producing uranium enriched up to 20 percent since January, adding to earlier steps away from its commitments in response to the US in 2018 pulling out of the deal and reimposing biting sanctions.
The alleged sabotage took place less than 24 hours after Iran announced it had brought into service or begun testing several hundred centrifuges forbidden under the 2015 agreement.
In July 2020, an advanced centrifuge assembly factory at Natanz was badly damaged by a mysterious explosion, likewise described as a "terrorist" act by Tehran.
Alongside the new centrifuges themselves, Rouhani had on Saturday inaugurated a new centrifuge assembly factory at Natanz.
- What's the upshot? -
In Iran, conservatives have vociferously attacked Rouhani's moderate reformist government and demanded that dialogue in Vienna aimed at rescuing the 2015 deal be ditched.
Seeking to bring the US back into the deal and persuade Iran to re-embrace its commitments, talks in the Austrian capital had got underway on April 6 on a positive note.
The negotiations involve the remaining parties -- Iran, China, Russia, Germany, the UK and France -- with the EU acting as an additional go-between between Washington and Tehran.
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.
Iranian state television announced Tuesday afternoon that deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi had left for Vienna ahead of a resumption of talks planned for Wednesday.
But early in the evening, Iran announced that it would begin to enrich uranium to 60 percent.
Eric Brewer, a senior fellow at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted on Twitter that the 60-percent target was "a significant... step" towards further shortening Iran's breakout timeline.
Indeed, it would quickly allow Iran to reach the 90-percent threshold needed for military purposes, even if it has repeatedly insisted it does not seek an atomic bomb.
- Can meaningful dialogue now proceed? -
Russia's ambassador to the UN in Vienna said late Tuesday that a resumption of talks had been postponed for one day, to Thursday.
After voicing "concerns" in January over Iran's decision to enrich uranium up to 20 percent, the Europeans and Washington in February urged Tehran not to disengage further.
For Brewer, enriching to 60 percent "is... unlikely to have the intended effect of forcing the US to accept Iran's demands.
"So, buckle up" for a bumpy diplomatic ride, he forecast.
On Monday, Marc Finaud, head of Arms Proliferation at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, said events at Natanz represented "not only sabotage of centrifuges," but a "sabotage of diplomacy".
Biden can make history on nuclear arms reductions .
Rescuing the best aspects of Obama’s nuclear policies is a worthy undertaking, but President Biden can and must go further. A good place to start would be by revisiting the Pentagon's costly and unnecessary nuclear weapons modernization plan. As part of that effort, he should cancel the plan to spend $264 billion to develop, build and operate a new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).Canceling the new ICBM would be good politics as well as good policy.