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.”