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Israeli Prime Minister says he’s not opposed to ‘good’ nuke deal with Iran as talks resume

Naftali Bennett (Maryland GovPics/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said he is not opposed to a “good” nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, although he expressed skepticism that the talks that resumed this week can result in such an outcome.

“At the end of the day, of course there can be a good deal,” Bennett told Israeli Army Radio on December 28. “Is that, at the moment, under the current dynamic, expected to happen? No, because a much harder stance is needed.”

Israel is not a party to the talks and opposed the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers that curbed Iran’s controversial nuclear program, saying it was not tough enough.

In the past, Israel has accused its archenemy Iran of using “nuclear blackmail” as a bargaining chip that allowed it to inch closer to developing a nuclear weapon.

The eighth round of negotiations aimed at reviving the deal, which stalled after the United States withdrew from the accord in 2018, opened in Vienna on December 27.

Iran, which claims its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only, reacted to the U.S. withdrawal by gradually ramping up its nuclear program and enriching uranium well beyond the thresholds allowed in the original agreement.

Tehran has said that the current negotiations should focus on lifting sanctions on the Islamic republic and obtaining “guarantees” that Washington, which is participating the talks indirectly, will return to the accord.

“The most important issue for us is to reach a point where, firstly, Iranian oil can be sold easily and without hindrance,” Iranian media quoted Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian as saying in Tehran before negotiations resumed this week.

The 2015 agreement limited Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, but sanctions were reimposed after the United States backed out of the deal under former President Donald Trump.

Diplomats from the parties that remained party to the deal — China, Britain, France, Germany, and Russia — are directly taking part in the efforts to restart the accord.

The seventh round of talks, the first under new hard-line Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, ended on December 17 after Tehran added some new demands to a working text, including that U.S. sanctions be lifted.

Diplomats from the three European countries directly involved in the negotiations said after that round ended that negotiators were “rapidly reaching the end of the road.” They have expressed frustration with Tehran’s new demands in recent weeks but pointed to “some technical progress.”

Russia’s envoy in the talks, Mikhail Ulyanov, said on December 28 that the working group was making “indisputable progress.”

“Sanctions lifting is being actively discussed in informal settings,” he wrote on Twitter.

U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said last week that current diplomatic efforts aimed at reviving the deal may be exhausted within “weeks,” while U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley warned of a “period of escalating crisis” if diplomacy failed to restore the agreement.