Iranian nuclear facility suffers outage as US Defense secretary meets Israeli officials

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An underground nuclear site in Iran suddenly and mysteriously lost power on Sunday after the facility started up ​advanced centrifuges that will allow it to enrich uranium faster as negotiations continue on the nuke accord that the US pulled out of in 2018, according to reports.

Iranian officials investigated the outage in Natanz as media outlets in Israel suggested the outage could be the result of cyberattacks, the Associated Press reported.

The Natanz facility is the cornerstone of Iran’s uranium enrichment program and is monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN watchdog.

At the same time, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Israeli officials, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as the US hopes to renew the Obama-era Iranian nuclear accord signed with six world powers. 

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz reiterated its close relationship with the US and said it would cooperate with the US on Iran while expecting its security would remain a priority.

“Israel views the United States as a full partner across all operational theatres, not the least Iran,” Gantz said after meeting with Austin.

“And we will work closely with our American allies 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​,” he said.

Austin’s visit to Israel is the first by a top Biden administration offici​al.​

He said the alliance between the two countries is central to maintaining security in the Middle East and said the US would ensure Israel kept its “qualitative military edge.”​

“Our bilateral relationship with Israel in particular is central to regional stability and security in the Middle East. During our meeting I reaffirmed to Minister Gantz our commitment to Israel is enduring and it is ironclad,” Austin said.

A spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said that there were no “casualties or contamination” caused by the blackout, adding that “electricity was affected at the Natanz facility.”​

“The cause of this incident is under investigation,” Behrouz Kamalvandi told Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, Reuters reported.

Malek Shariati Niasar, a Tehran-based lawmaker who serves as spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s energy committee, ​in a Twitter posting called the outage “very suspicious” ​and raised the possibility of  ​”​sabotage and infiltratio​n,” the AP reported.

Asked if the blackout was due to “technical defect or sabotage,” Kamalvandi declined to comment.​

Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact in 2018 and re-imposed punishing sanctions on Iran as part of a “maximum pressure campaign.”

But last week, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US is prepared to lift sanctions that are “inconsistent” with the 2015 deal.

“We are prepared to take the steps necessary to return to compliance with the JCPOA, including by lifting sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA,” Price said, referring to the accord by its official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

His comments came as indirect talks were held in Vienna on the US returning to the pact​.

They are ​taking place among all entities involved in the original Iran nuclear agreement — China, France, Russia, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union — as member countries work to return the US to the deal.

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