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Nuclear facility sabotage could have caused 'human catastrophe', Zarif says

Iranian foreign minister says covert operation, which has been blamed on Israel, is an act of 'reckless criminal nuclear terrorism'
Zarif says US must 'remove all sanctions' imposed on Iran (AP/File photo)
By MEE staff in Washington

Iran has complained to the United Nations against the suspected Israeli sabotage of a uranium enrichment facility, calling the attack an act of "nuclear terrorism" that could have caused a "human and environmental catastrophe".

In a letter to the UN General Assembly on Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the disruption of power at the Natanz enrichment plant on the weekend - which Iran blames on Israel - risked releasing radioactive material. 

The covert attack, he wrote, "constitutes reckless criminal nuclear terrorism".

"Considering the possible indiscriminate human and environmental consequences of this international crime, those who planned, ordered, participated and carried out this cowardly act committed a grave war crime; one that must not go unpunished," the letter said.

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"Any power with knowledge of, or acquiescence in, this act must also be held accountable as an accomplice to this war crime."

Zarif suggested that Israel carried out Sunday's attack to prevent reviving the multilateral Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

"While several officials of Israeli regime have since autumn of 2020 publicly and openly threatened to carry out such operations to prevent the restoration of the JCPOA, and many Israeli and western media outlets tacitly confirmed (and even boasted about) the complicity of Israeli war criminals in this latest terrorist act, Iran is refraining from any final judgement as to the culprit while a thorough investigation over the sabotage and its perpetrators is underway," the Iranian foreign minister wrote.

The New York Times had cited US and Israeli officials as saying that Israel was behind the attack. 

While the Times reported that an explosion caused the power outage at the nuclear plant, which officials said set back the nuclear production at Natanz by nine months, details about the attack and its impact remain unconfirmed.

Vienna talks

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, played down the effects of the attack on Iran's nuclear programme.

"You’ll see within the next few days that a remarkable part of the acts of sabotage by the enemy will be repaired. A number of [centrifuge] machines went off-grid because of yesterday’s incident, and a number of others need to be re-examined," Salehi was quoted as saying by Iran's Tasnim news agency on Monday.

"The ones that have been damaged will be replaced. Let me tell you that whatever has happened, the rectification has been several percent higher."

The incident came days before Iran was set to resume indirect talks with the United States in Vienna - aimed at restoring the 2015 JCPOA, which saw Tehran scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions against its economy.

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Former US President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the deal in 2018 and started piling sanctions on various sectors of the Iranian economy. Iran, in turn, has been loosening its own commitments to the agreement and enriching uranium at higher levels than permitted by the accord. 

In his letter to the UN, Zarif reiterated Tehran's stance that Washington must lift all sanctions imposed by Trump to revive the accord. He added that Tehran's nuclear programme will push on after the attack.

"If the United States wants to avert the drastic consequences of foolish gambles by its terrorist stooges, it must cease forthwith to consider unlawful measures - whether economic terrorism perpetrated by Trump (and continued by the current US administration) or the recent nuclear terrorism - as negotiating leverage and remove all sanctions imposed, re-imposed or relabeled since the adoption of the JCPOA," he wrote. 

"Iran will, after timely verification of the aforementioned, respond by stopping all remedial measures - which will now take a significant upward leap following this latest terrorist sabotage."

The United States has denied responsibility for Sunday's attack. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday that nuclear talks in Vienna will proceed as scheduled later this week.

"Our focus is, of course, on the diplomatic path forward. We have not been given any indication that attendance at the discussions that will proceed on Wednesday has changed," Psaki said when asked about the incident.

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