Bennett Urges Blinken to Halt Vienna Talks Over Iran’s ‘Nuclear Blackmail’

In a phone call that U.S. officials say focused on new Jewish construction in East Jerusalem – and not on nuclear negotiations – Israeli prime minister said the decision hasn't yet arrived to the political echelon

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Washington in August.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Washington in August. Credit: Olivier Douliery/AP

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to immediately terminate talks in Vienna between Iran and world powers amid Tehran's ongoing nuclear violations.

The talks are meant to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, under which Tehran curbed its uranium enrichment program in return for the lifting of U.S., UN and European Union sanctions.

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According to a statement by the prime minister's office, the two's phone call conversation revolved mostly around Iran's nuclear program. Bennett asked Blinken not to give in to Iran's "nuclear blackmail" and urged a harsh response by world powers.

Bennett also expressed his opposition to lifting American sanctions on Iran, which according to Bennett, means a massive flow of cash into the Islamic republic.

From the Biden administration's perspective, sources tell Haaretz that Blinken's call with Bennett was primarily centered around the planned erection of a new Jewish neighborhood in Atarot — an area earmarked to the Palestinians — and not the Vienna negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.

Following the Israeli readout, which widely focused on the Iran portion of the conversation, the State Department readout clarified that Blinken "strongly emphasized" that Israel should refrain from unilateral actions that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, "including advancing settlement activity." Congressional Democrats, at the behest of organizations such as Americans for Peace Now, had pushed the State Department to make this clear following Israel's summary of the conversation.

Earlier this week, the UN nuclear watchdog said that Iran has started the process of enriching uranium to 20 percent purity with advanced centrifuges at its Fordow facility buried inside a mountain, a move likely to raise tensions at talks in Vienna between Iran and major world powers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency verified on Tuesday that Iran fed uranium hexafluoride feedstock enriched to up to 5 percent into a cascade, or cluster, of 166 IR-6 centrifuges at Fordow to enrich it further to up to 20 percent, the IAEA said in a statement. An IAEA report last month said Iran was operating 166 IR-6 machines there without keeping the enriched product.

The IAEA reported on Wednesday that it decided to increase the frequency of verification activities at Fordow and Iran has agreed.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during the NATO Foreign Ministers summit this weekCredit: Ints Kalnins/Reuters

Regarding the erection of a new Jewish neighborhood in an area earmarked to Palestinians, Bennett said that the decision has been taken by a district Jerusalem committee and has yet to arrive to higher political levels.

The Jerusalem Municipality's planning committee last week advanced the construction of a new neighborhood beyond Israel's pre-1967 borders. If established, it would be the first large Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem since Har Homa in the 1990s.

The area, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah, was originally intended to be transferred to the Palestinians according to agreements in previous peace talks. It rests on the grounds of a defunct regional airport in the northern part of Jerusalem, annexed by Israel in June 1967. The plan for the neighborhood includes 9,000 residential units in an area of 1,243 dunams.

It is thought that the new neighborhood will be intended for use by the ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem. In recent months, the government has been promoting a number of controversial construction plans that stalled under the previous government. For example, plans for a new settlement in Area A-1 and infrastructure work which already begun in Givat Hamatos in southern Jerusalem.

Bennett and Blinken also discussed the new coronavirus omicron variant and the renewal of Israel's anti-missile system Iron Dome munitions

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