Zarif writes to UN chief on Natanz, accuses Israel of derailing nuclear deal talks

April 13, 2021 - 21:50

TEHRAN – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the sabotage at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant, accusing Israel of pursuing policies aimed at disrupting nuclear deal talks between Iran and the West.

“I am writing to inform you that in the early morning hours of 11 April 2021, dangerous, reckless sabotage at the electricity distribution network of the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant caused a blackout and the disruption of the operations of this sensitive nuclear facility which has been under IAEA safeguards and extensive monitoring. The timely and professional containment measures adopted by the highly dedicated management and staff of the NFEP and Iranian Atomic Energy Organization averted what could have become a human and environmental catastrophe,” Zarif wrote. 

Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), told Iranian news outlets on Sunday that the electricity distribution grid of Natanz has been damaged due to an incident that later turned out to be an act of sabotage. 

Iran pointed the finger at Israel. Saeed Khatibzadeh, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, described the sabotage as a “trap” set by Israel to disrupt the process of lifting U.S. sanctions on Iran, saying that Iran will not fall into this “deceitful trap.” Israel, Khatibzadeh vowed, should know that Iran will retaliate at the proper time and place.

Zarif also placed the blame on Israel in his first response to the sabotage. Commenting on the sabotage at the Natanz plant, 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 officials to avoid falling into 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 agency IRNA.

“Sabotage in nuclear site is a war crime”

In his letter, Zarif described the Natanz sabotage as a “war crime,” which must not go unpunished given its high risk of releasing dangerous materials.

“The deliberate targeting of a highly sensitive safeguarded nuclear facility—with the high risk of potential release of radioactive material—constitutes reckless criminal nuclear terrorism. Considering the possible indiscriminate human and environmental consequences of this international crime, those who planned, ordered, participated and carried out this cowardly act committed a grave war crime; one that must not go unpunished. Any power with knowledge of, or acquiescence in, this act must also be held accountable as an accomplice to this war crime,” the Iranian foreign minister noted.

He added, “While several officials of the Israeli regime have since autumn of 2020 publicly and openly threatened to carry out such operations to prevent the restoration of the JCPOA, and many Israeli and western media outlets tacitly confirmed (and even boasted about) the complicity of Israeli war criminals in this latest terrorist act, Iran is refraining from any final judgment as to the culprit while a thorough investigation over the sabotage and its perpetrators is underway.”

But Zarif underlined that the Israelis did everything in their power to derail the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West. 

“It must however be borne in mind that since the beginning of the negotiations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2013, the Israeli regime has missed no opportunity to torpedo the negotiations and, following the conclusion of the Plan and its unanimous endorsement by the Security Council in resolution 2231 (2015), it has made every effort—shamelessly in a public way—to prevent its successful implementation and its restoration after the recent U.S. election,” he said. 

Iran and the P4+1 resumed nuclear talks over how to revive the JCPOA. To this end, the JCPOA Joint Commission held several meetings in Vienna. The latest meeting of the Commission, a group comprised of Iran and the P4+1 responsible for overseeing the implementation of the deal, was held on April 9.

During the meeting, participants received a report from the two newly-established expert groups, which were put together on April 7 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.

The sabotage occurred amid a charged atmosphere prevailing in Vienna. 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.

Analysts and officials in Iran believe that the sabotage happened when Iran showed some resistance in Vienna, thus suggesting a link between what happened in Vienna and Natanz. Mohsen Rezaei, the secretary of the Expediency Council, said the Natanz incident is still under investigation, but Iranian officials don’t rule out American participation in the Natanz sabotage.

“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.

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.

In his letter, Zarif stopped short of accusing the U.S. of playing a role in the Natanz sabotage, but he pointed to the past Israeli-American joint efforts to derail Iran’s nuclear program.

“Recalling the long record of the Israeli regime in sabotage operations against our peaceful nuclear activities—including the cowardly assassination of several Iranian nuclear and other scientists in the past years (A/65/622–S/2010/634, A/66/656–S/2012/27 and S/2020/1148) as well as the joint U.S.-Israeli cyber operation against Iran’s nuclear facilities through the use of a malicious computer worm known as Stuxnet—the international community must strongly condemn this act of nuclear terrorism and hold the culprits and their accomplices accountable for the act; one that threatens to further destabilize our already tense region,” the chief Iranian diplomat said. 

He added, “The Islamic Republic of Iran reserves its right under international law to take all necessary measures to protect and defend its citizens, interests and installations against any terrorist or disruptive acts. During the past 42 years, pressure, economic warfare and terrorism—in most of its forms and manifestations—have all failed to dent our resolve, shake or disrupt our progress in science and technology, or compel us to submit to the whims of the arrogant forces and their stooges.”

Zarif says “even most advanced” will be installed at Natanz

Zarif also suggested that Iran will replace the damaged centrifuges at Natanz with “even most advanced” machines.

“This most recent cowardly act of nuclear terrorism will only strengthen our determination to march forward and to replace all the damaged centrifuges with even more advanced and sophisticated machines. Even the most insane criminals will finally—and soon—realize that they must never threaten Iranians,” he said. 

Following the sabotage, several Iranian officials underlined the need to install advanced centrifuges instead of those that were damaged due to the sabotage.

“All the centrifuges knocked out due to this incident were of IR1 type and they will be replaced with advanced centrifuges. The Islamic Republic now has the ability at the highest level to replace these [damaged centrifuges] with the most advanced ones,” Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday during his weekly presser. 

Mojtaba Zolnour, the head of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, also said the damaged centrifuges will be replaced with the more advanced IR6 centrifuges, which have the capacity of enriching 6 to 7 tons of uranium per year.

At the end of his letter, Zarif called on the Biden administration to lift all the sanctions imposed by its predecessor. 

“If the United States wants to avert the drastic consequences of foolish gambles by its terrorist stooges, it must cease forthwith to consider unlawful measures—whether economic terrorism perpetrated by Trump (and continued by the current U.S. administration) or the recent nuclear terrorism—as negotiating leverage and remove all sanctions imposed, re-imposed or relabeled since the adoption of the JCPOA. Iran will, after timely verification of the aforementioned, respond by stopping all remedial measures—which will now take a significant upward leap following this latest terrorist sabotage,” Zarif stated. 

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