Rezaei explains to Tehran Times possibility of American involvement in sabotage

The usual culprits

April 12, 2021 - 22:9

TEHRAN – Iranian officials have officially blamed the sabotage that targeted the Natanz nuclear enrichment plant on Israel while taking into consideration an American role in the sabotage before drawing a conclusion.  

Saeed Khatibzdeh, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said on Monday that Israel was behind the Natanz sabotage. Speaking at a weekly press conference, Khatibzadeh described the sabotage as a “trap” set by Israel to disrupt the process of lifting U.S. sanctions on Iran. He noted that Iran will not fall into this “deceitful trap.”

Israel, Khatibzadeh asserted, should know that Iran will retaliate at the proper time and place.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif offered further details about the motivations behind the sabotage. He said the Israelis want to disrupt the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna. The chief Iranian diplomat said, “The Zionists want to take revenge on the Iranian people for their success in lifting the cruel sanctions, but we will not allow this and we will take revenge for these actions from the Zionists themselves.”

Underlining the need for Iranian people and official to avoid falling in the “deceitful trap set by the Zionist regime,” Zarif reiterated that the political and military officials of the Zionist regime had explicitly stated that they would not allow progress in lifting the cruel sanctions and now they think that they will achieve their goal, but the Zionists will get their answer in further nuclear progress, according to state news IRNA.

Iran will install a set of new centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility following the Israeli sabotage targeting the facility’s electrical distribution grid, a senior Iranian lawmaker said.

The lawmaker, Mojtaba Zolnour, who is the head of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said centrifuges that were targeted by an Israeli cyber attack were enriching uranium at the lowest possible level and that they will be replaced with new, more advanced ones.

According to the lawmaker, the damaged centrifuges are of IR1 type that “produce 800 grams to a maximum of one kilogram and 200 grams of enriched uranium per year, and if there are a thousand units of this generation of centrifuges, we can produce a maximum of one ton of enriched uranium per year.”

Zolnour said Israel had a role in the Natanz incident “but we also don’t see the U.S. as innocent.”

The U.S. sought to distance itself from what Israel did in Natanz, although the Israelis, taking pride in the Natanz sabotage, implied that they did the U.S. a favor by knocking out Natanz centrifuges for nine months.
“We have seen reports of an incident at the Natanz enrichment facility in Iran. The United States had no involvement, and we have nothing to add to speculation about the causes,” a senior Biden administration official was quoted by The Washington Post as saying on Monday.

However, some Israeli media outlets were clear about the service that Israel provided to Washington.
DEBKAfile, a news website close to Israel’s intelligence community, opined that Washington and Tel Aviv had “good reason” to damage the uranium enrichment process at Natanz.

“Israel and the United States, together and separately, had good reason to out the electrical grid feeding the operation by what appears to have been a cyberattack,” it said, adding, “The Biden administration is suffering from Tehran’s foot-dragging and delaying tactics in response to its call for renewed nuclear talks to negotiate an improved version of the 2015 nuclear accord. The Iranians are obviously wasting time to bring their program to break-out level and then confront the world with the fait accompli of a fully-fledged nuclear power. Disrupting enrichment at Natanz should have told Tehran that Washington would not tolerate this gambit.”

Analysts and officials in Iran have also pointed to an American role in the sabotage, saying that the U.S. is a prime suspect because it, along with Israel, largely benefited from Iranian centrifuges at Natanz being knocked out.

“Negotiations should be suspended for at least nine months. He who sees America and Israel as separated is ignorant,” Masoud Barati, a sanctions expert, said on Twitter. 

He was most likely referring to a report by The New York Times claiming that the sabotage would stymie uranium enrichment at Natanz for at least nine months. Citing two intelligence officials, The Times said that “the explosion had dealt a severe blow to Iran’s ability to enrich uranium and that it could take at least nine months to restore Natanz’s production. If so, Iran’s leverage in new talks sought by the Biden administration to restore the nuclear agreement could be significantly compromised.”

The American newspaper also raised the possibility of the Biden administration receiving advance word before what it called the Natanz operation. 

“It was not immediately clear how much advance word — if any — the Biden administration received about the Natanz operation, which happened on the same morning that the American defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, was visiting Israel,” The Times said. 

The Natanz incident is still under investigation, but Iranian officials don’t rule out American participation in the Natanz sabotage, according to Mohsen Rezaei, the secretary of the Expediency Council.

“Iran is investigating the Natanz incident and the investigation has not finished. So, there is no official conclusion on what happened at Natanz. But a U.S. role in the incident cannot be ruled out given Washington’s behavior toward Iran,” Rezaei told the Tehran Times. 

He drew a link between the sabotage and the ongoing nuclear talks between Iran and the P4+1 in Vienna. According to Rezaei, the sabotage happened after Iran showed resistance in the Vienna talks.

Iran and the P4+1 are engaged in renewed talks to revive a 2015 nuclear deal officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). They held several rounds of talks in Vienna and are going to meet again on Wednesday. 
The latest meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission, a group comprised of Iran and the P4+1 responsible for overseeing the implementation of the deal, was held on Friday.

During the meeting, participants received a report from the two newly-established expert groups, which were put together on Wednesday to conduct technical talks over how to revive the JCPOA and what measures are needed to be done by Iran and the U.S. in this regard. One of the groups is tasked with specifying the sanctions that the U.S. should lift to revive the deal while the other is discussing how to reverse the nuclear measures taken by Iran in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA.

During the Vienna talks, Iran demanded that the U.S. lift at least 1,600 sanctions all at once, something that the U.S. rejected. American officials interpreted this demand as Iranian “intransigence,” warning that this so-called intransigence will lead the talks to a deadlock. 

Rezaei told the Tehran Times that the Americans want to restrain Iran’s nuclear enrichment capability while retaining economic sanctions. Therefore, he said, they were likely implicated in what happened at the Natanz nuclear plant as the sabotage serves American interest.

This calculation has resonated with some Iranian analysts, who called for a measured response to the Israeli move. They underlined the need to continue the Vienna talks but they said these talks should be pursued in a reconsidered framework, in which Iran should present a package of comprehensive policies compatible with the country’s national interests. 

According to this package, nuclear talks should not be seen independently from the Israel-U.S. joint plan, which was manifested by the recent sabotage at Natanz. Under this plan, analysts said, Washington and Tel Aviv pursue concerted efforts against Iran. The Vienna talks, the Natanz sabotage and other political and security measures against Iran are all parts of these efforts. 

Accordingly, Iran may respond by changing the agenda of the Vienna talks. Some pundits believe that the Iranian government must condition the continuation of these talks on the West reining in Israel’s operations against Iran. Others say that Iran should up the ante by presenting new demands. Some even called on the government to raise the issue of receiving compensation from the West for the damage it incurred over the past few years.

Some other analysts called for a suspension of the nuclear talks, saying that negotiating under pressure does not make any sense. With the public pressuring the government to respond to Israel, a suspension of the Vienna nuclear talks seems to be a serious option. How will the Iranian government respond? That remains to be seen. 

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