Iran’s top leader said on Wednesday that his country would continue to negotiate with world powers on how to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal, quelling speculation that Iran’s delegation would boycott or stop participating in protest at the apparent Israeli sabotage of a major. uranium enrichment site.
The statement by top leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on security matters in the country of 80 million people, came three days after an explosion at the Natanz enrichment site sank the heavily guarded facility. in a blackout and be disabled or destroyed. hundreds of underground centrifuges used to process uranium into fuel.
Suspicion of destruction immediately fell on Israel, which had already sabotaged the Natanz site previously. Israel neither confirmed nor denied the accusation, but intelligence officials said it was a clandestine Israeli operation.
Outraged and embarrassed by such a security lapse, Iran on Tuesday vowed to triple its uranium enrichment purity, the most blatant deviation yet from its commitments under the nuclear deal.
But Khamenei’s remarks on Wednesday showed that he does not want to abandon negotiations to save the deal, which has promised Iran relief from onerous economic sanctions imposed by the United States if Iranian nuclear activities are limited.
“Officials have determined that we negotiate to achieve our policies,” Khamenei said during a speech reported by Iranian media to mark the first day of the Ramadan holiday.
“We have no problem with this as long as they are careful that the negotiations do not run out and the parties do not prolong the negotiations because it will not benefit the country,” Khamenei said.
President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, who had been ambiguous about whether Iran would withdraw from the negotiations, told a televised Cabinet meeting that “the Supreme Leader has clearly defined the framework of our negotiations and we will continue our work within that framework.”
The European Union, which oversees diplomatic discussions in Vienna, also said they would resume at 12:30 pm local time on Thursday.
The discussions, which began earlier this month and broke off last Friday, are intended to map out a plan for Iran and the United States to return to compliance with the agreement.
It has been on the brink of collapse since President Donald J. Trump abruptly withdrew the United States three years ago, restored economic sanctions, and imposed new punitive measures as part of a “maximum pressure” strategy aimed at forcing Iran to agree to terms. more restrictive.
Israel, which views Iran as an existential threat, supported Trump’s decision and has expressed anger at the Biden administration’s intention to revive the deal, arguing that it is weak and would not prevent Iran’s leaders from militarizing their nuclear capabilities. Iran has repeatedly said that its nuclear energy program is peaceful.
But Iran responded to the Natanz blackout with a reported attack on an Israeli ship, said to have caused only minor damage and no fatalities, and then announced its plan to enrich uranium to 60 percent purity, down from 20 percent, moving a huge approach to the 90 percent level that could be used to fuel a nuclear weapon.
Iran began reneging on its promises to limit its enriched uranium arsenal under the 2015 nuclear deal after the Trump administration gave up US involvement.
Iranian officials have also said the country plans to replace the centrifuges at Natanz with more modern ones banned under the original nuclear deal. Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog arm of the United Nations, said the Twitter that process could start soon.
An Iranian parliamentary delegation visited Natanz on Wednesday, and a lawmaker said the remains were less extensive than those of the sabotage there last July. Speaking on the Clubhouse chat site, the legislator, Vahid Jalalzadeh, said that some underground tunnels had been damaged but that part of the facility had power and that the centrifuges were running. There was no way to corroborate his assessment, which differed from previous accounts of large-scale ruin.
Jalalzadeh also said that Israel had recruited spies within Iran’s intelligence apparatus and that the identity and whereabouts of a suspected saboteur had been discovered, but could not reveal it. He did not explain why.
Iran has said that all its deviations from compliance with the nuclear deal could be easily and quickly reversed when the United States lifts its sanctions.
In recent years, Israel has carried out a series of raids and attacks on Iran’s nuclear scientists and its uranium enrichment facilities.
Although the US and Israeli governments have collaborated before to counter what they see as Iran’s militaristic nuclear ambitions, Washington denied any role in Sunday’s blackout.
The foreign ministries of Germany, France and the UK issued a joint statement on Wednesday condemning Iran’s uranium enrichment intentions and saying they “reject all escalation measures by any actor.”
Iran and the United States have not been negotiating directly in the Vienna talks. Instead, the other participants in the 2015 deal – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – are acting as intermediaries.
The first round of talks that concluded last week was constructive, according to the high-level diplomats who participated. Two working groups were formed to discuss sanctions and uranium enrichment, both tasked with devising how to get the United States and Iran back into compliance with the 2015 agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Steven Erlanger and Rick Gladstone contributed reporting.