The Irish Times view on the Iran nuclear plant attack: talks in jeopardy

Israel is suspected of involvement in an attack that will delay Tehran’s nuclear programme

An exterior view of the nuclear enrichment plant of Natanz, in central Iran. Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/ EPA

An exterior view of the nuclear enrichment plant of Natanz, in central Iran. Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/ EPA

 

Although it has refused to acknowledge its hand in Sunday’s cyber-attack on Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment site, which crippled temporarily the country’s nuclear programme, few doubt, and intelligence officials have told journalists, that Israel was responsible. Iran has dubbed the operation a “terrorist attack”.

The large-scale blackout of the site’s power system came as multiparty talks resumed in Vienna on reintegrating the United States into the 2015 Obama-era nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, which was repudiated by the Trump administration and which Israel views with horror. Any softening of the controls on Iran, it says, will allow it to prepare a nuclear attack on Israel.

Iran accused Israel of involvement in an explosion at Natanz last July, as well as the killing of its top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November. Israel has in recent times been more open in acknowledging its military operations abroad, including a series of air raids on Syria.

Iranian authorities have provocatively boasted that their nuclear capability is higher now than it was before the 2015 nuclear deal. Enrichment capacity has risen more than 20 per cent this year and the country also has a significantly larger stockpile of enriched uranium. But the successful attack on Natanz will weaken Tehran’s negotiating hand and, with a presidential election barely 10 weeks away, strengthen that of hardliners opposed to any deal within Iran .

The talks have shown little progress, but that they are continuing – albeit at arm’s length as European diplomats shuttle between US and Iranian delegations – is a sign of willingness on both sides to engage. They are complicated by the Iranian insistence that all sanctions imposed since January 2016, the date the 2015 agreement came into force, are lifted. But the US says some of the sanctions imposed by Trump after that date could be said to be non-nuclear-related and so need not be lifted. Iran and the US are also at loggerheads over the latter’s ambition to agree a step-by step return to the treaty.

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