JERUSALEM, Israel – Negotiations are underway in Vienna between Iran and the remaining signatories of the nuclear deal world powers signed in 2015. Israeli leaders believe a new deal could be even worse than the first.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett challenged world leaders to not give in to what he calls Iran’s “nuclear blackmail.”
“Iran will be arriving at negotiations in Vienna with a clear goal: to end sanctions in exchange for almost nothing,” Bennett said on Monday. “Iran won't just keep its nuclear program. From today, they'll be getting paid for it … there are those who think they deserve to have their sanctions removed and hundreds of billions of dollars poured right into their rotten regime. They're wrong."
The remaining signatories to the nuclear deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) are Iran, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain. The US is not at the negotiating table because the Trump administration unilaterally pulled out of the agreement in 2018 and restored sanctions on Iran as part of Washington’s “maximum pressure strategy” on Tehran.
Iranian negotiators came to Vienna with a demand for America.
"If the United States comes with the removal of the sanctions, the real removal of sanctions, it can certainly receive the ticket for returning to the nuclear deal's (negotiations) room. Otherwise, it will continue to remain outside of the negotiating table,” said Iran Foreign Ministery Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh.
The White House says the goal is a return to the 2015 agreement.
“Our objective has not changed. It remains a mutual return to full compliance with the JCPOA. This is the best available option to restrict Iran's nuclear program and provide a platform to address Iran's destabilizing conduct,” said White House Spokesperson Jen Psaki.
The question for some critics is whether Iran will try to exploit the US, weakened in many eyes by the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal.
Some Israeli leaders say the 2015 deal gave Iran billions that it used to fund terror groups across the Middle East, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and the Houthis in Yemen.
Circumstances surrounding these Vienna talks differ from those in 2015. Iran now has a more hardline president, Ibrahim Raisi, nicknamed the “Butcher of Baghdad.” The country’s nuclear program has expanded, enriching uranium to an almost weapons-grade level and is closer to a nuclear breakout stage.
Since 2015, Israel has stepped up its covert and cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear program and military leaders have been clear a direct strike to eliminate Iran's nuclear program remains on the table.