U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday it will be known in "the very near future" whether Iran intends to engage in good faith in talks to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, but that recent rhetoric did not give cause for optimism.
The U.S. will know "in the next day or so," whether Iran is serious about reviving the deal with world powers, Blinken said, adding that there was still time for Iran to "engage meaningfully" in the Vienna negotiations.
Speaking to reporters in Sweden, where he attended meetings of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Blinken said he discussed Iran in meetings with his counterparts from Russia and Israel on Thursday.
Blinken said the call with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was "good and detailed," adding: "We have exactly the same strategic objectives: We are both determined to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon."
The U.S. "will continue to be in very close contact with Israel, as well as with other concerned countries including in the Gulf, about the status of the talks," Blinken said. He added he also had "a good conversation" about Iran with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Stockholm.
Bennett urged Blinken in their conversation to immediately terminate talks over Tehran's ongoing nuclear violations. According to a statement by the Prime Minister's Office, Bennett expressed his opposition to lifting American sanctions, which according to the Israeli premier would mean a massive flow of cash into Iran.
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 for Palestinians — and not the Vienna negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.
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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.
Israel's new Mossad chief David Barnea promised that Iran "will not have nuclear weapons, not in the coming years, never," adding that "together with our colleagues in the defense establishment, we will do whatever it takes to keep the threat away from the State of Israel, and thwart it in any way."
Bagheri Kani, Iran's delegate at the Vienna talks tweeted Thursday that Iran had engaged in "fruitful discussions" with the UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Mariano Grossi "aimed at continuation of technical cooperation between Iran" and the nuclear agency.
"I confirmed the resolute intention of Iran to actively and positively engage in the talks in Vienna. The Agency has a positive technical role to play," Kani wrote.
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.
On Wednesday the IAEA reported that it decided to increase the frequency of verification activities at Fordow and Iran has agreed.