Iran nuclear deal
April 13, 2021

Sunday's cyberattack on Iran's underground Natanz uranium enrichment facility, widely believed to be the work of Israel, has added another layer of uncertainty over the already delicate indirect talks between Iran and the U.S. on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday threatened retaliation against Israel and "any power with knowledge" of the sabotage, but he said Iran will take part in scheduled Wednesday negotiations in Vienna, conducted through European and other parties to the nuclear accord.

Israel, whose government strongly opposed the 2015 deal and has criticized President Biden's efforts to resurrect it, has neither publicly denied or claimed responsibility for the cyberattack, which temporarily set back Iran's ability to enrich uranium at the facility. But Israeli media has heavily suggested the country is behind the sabotage, and U.S. and Israeli officials confirmed to The New York Times that Israel at least played a role.

The Biden administration has neither condemned nor celebrated the Natanz attack. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday "the U.S. was not involved in any manner" and has "nothing to add on speculation about the causes or the impacts," adding, "Our focus is on the diplomatic path forward."

It isn't clear if the U.S. was warned about the sabotage beforehand or whether Israel timed the attack to coincide with a visit to Israel by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Austin did not mention Iran at a news conference Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The talks to restart the agreement, which former President Donald Trump pulled out from in 2018, are at an early stage, and the U.S. and Iran don't agree about which U.S. sanctions would be lifted and under what conditions; Iran wants them lifted before it returns to compliance with the nuclear deal while the U.S. sees Iran's compliance as a precondition. At this point, both sides are committed to the negotiations.

Israel wants "to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions," Zarif said. "We will not fall into their trap. ... We will not allow this act of sabotage to affect the nuclear talks." Peter Weber

April 12, 2021

While nothing is definitive, "all indications are pointing to the fact" that Israel was behind a cyberattack that knocked out power at Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility over the weekend, retired U.S. Navy Adm. William McRaven said Monday, and he finds the allegations "a little disturbing" given that the U.S. and other countries are currently trying to renegotiate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

"Frankly, I'm not exactly sure what it accomplishes," McRaven told CNN's Jake Tapper. "It's a little bit of a shot across the bow, but Natanz will only be down for maybe a week or so."

McRaven didn't sound too worried about significant retribution from Iran, noting that Tehran doesn't often follow through on its threats, but he expressed concerns about whether this could hamper efforts to strike an agreement on the nuclear pact. However, the blame shouldn't be placed squarely on Israel, McRaven suggested. Tapper asked him if he thought it was plausible that Israel carried out the alleged "act of sabotage without informing the U.S. government, either before or after." That, indeed, "is the problem," McRaven responded. "It implies that [the U.S. was] either complicit or we were ignorant, and neither one of those is a good look for us," he said. Tim O'Donnell

April 11, 2021

A whole lot happened in relation to Iran's nuclear program this weekend.

For starters, on Sunday, Iran's underground Natanz facility started up new advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium more quickly. Hours later, a "suspicious" blackout struck the facility. Tehran claims there wasn't any lasting damage or pollution, but Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's civilian nuclear program, called the power outage "nuclear terrorism" and details remain scarce.

Israeli media outlets, including Haaretz, are indicating the blackout was the result of an Israeli cyberattack, the latest sign of escalation between the regional rivals. The Associated Press notes these reports do not offer sourcing, but "Israeli media maintains a close relationship with [Israel's] military and intelligence," so, when coupled with past allegations of Israel targeting Iran's nuclear program, the possibility seems legitimate.

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Israel meeting with his counterpart, Benny Gantz, who pledged to cooperate with the U.S. "to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region, and protect the State of Israel."

World powers, including the U.S., will continue to negotiate with Tehran over its nuclear deal next week in Vienna, though it's unclear how the blackout will affect the talks, if it all. Tim O'Donnell

April 2, 2021

Three years after Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed economic sanctions, the U.S. is set to take part in indirect discussions to revive the accord.

President Joe Biden has made it clear he wants to return to the 2015 deal, and next Tuesday that journey begins. Officials from all participating countries, including the U.S. and Iran, will meet in Vienna, the Wall Street Journal reports. However, U.S. and Iran officials will not meet face-to-face.

Iran is still pushing for the U.S. to lift sanctions. "Iran will suspend its steps (scaling back compliance with the deal's terms) as soon as (U.S.) sanctions are lifted and this is verified," Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said Friday in Iran's Fars News Agency, Reuters reports.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the talks are a "healthy step forward," AP reports. But Price noted they are in the early stages. "We don't anticipate an immediate breakthrough as there will be difficult discussions ahead." Taylor Watson

February 28, 2021

Iran's foreign ministry on Sunday said the country will not participate in an informal meeting with the United States and European powers to discuss reviving the nuclear deal.

The European Union offered to hold the talks, but this is "not the time" for such a gathering, spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said. Under former President Donald Trump, the U.S. abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal, and reimposed economic sanctions. Iran refused to renegotiate and instead began ignoring its commitments under the deal.

Tehran has said in order for there to be talks, the U.S. must lift sanctions, which the U.S. has ruled out. A White House spokesperson said on Sunday the U.S. will consult with the other countries that signed the nuclear deal — the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and Germany — to determine "the best way forward." Catherine Garcia

February 18, 2021

The Biden administration announced Thursday that the U.S. is willing to sit down with other world powers to discuss returning to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. would accept an invitation from the European Union high representative to attend a meeting with Iran, Germany, and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council "to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran's nuclear program." A State Department official told reporters that it's not yet clear if Tehran will agree to participate in the meeting.

The Iran nuclear deal, meant to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, was abandoned in 2018 during the Trump administration. Iran is threatening to stop International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its nuclear facilities next week, saying the U.S. needs to hold up some of its commitments made as part of the 2015 deal. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said if "Iran comes back into strict compliance with its commitments ... the United States will do the same." Catherine Garcia

January 2, 2021

Iran is ready to produce 20 percent enriched uranium at its underground Fordo nuclear facility "as soon as possible," Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's civilian Atomic Energy Organization, said Saturday. "We are like soldiers and our fingers are on the triggers," he told Iranian state television. The 20 percent figure is much higher than the threshold set in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and though it's well below the grade required to make a bomb, The Guardian has previously reported the early stages of enrichment are the most challenging, and it gets easier over time.

The plan came to light Friday, and both Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency have since confirmed that Tehran has informed the agency of its preparations. The decision comes amid escalating tensions between Tehran and both Washington and Jerusalem following the assassinations of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani — which was carried out by the U.S. in a drone strike almost exactly one year ago — and Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who founded the country's military nuclear program two decades ago.

Iran has blamed Israel for Fakhrizadeh's death, and the country's parliament subsequently passed a law calling for the production and storage of 20 percent enriched uranium, as well as an end to IAEA inspections, which are meant to ensure the country is not developing an atomic bomb. It does not appear Tehran has followed through on the latter step, however, The Associated Press reports. Salehi said the enrichment "should be done under IAEA supervision." Read more at The Associated Press and France 24. Tim O'Donnell

December 14, 2020

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday said if the United States returns to the Iran nuclear deal, his country will follow within an hour.

The deal was made during the Obama administration in 2015, lifting sanctions on Tehran in exchange for Iran reducing its uranium stockpile and dismantling its centrifuges. Rouhani said he will not discuss any changes to the accord or restrictions on Iran's ballistic missile program, The Guardian reports.

President Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, and Rouhani made his comments on the same day the Trump administration sanctioned two Iranian intelligence officials for allegedly playing a role in the 2007 disappearance and presumed death of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson. President-elect Joe Biden has said he will rejoin the deal, believing it is one way to avert a nuclear crisis in the Middle East. Catherine Garcia

See More Speed Reads