JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel and the United States held high-level meetings in Washington on Tuesday to discuss Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The meeting came as world powers convened in Vienna to restart nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Israel’s National Security Council chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat met with his US counterpart Jake Sullivan in one of the first in-person, high-level meetings between the US and Israel since President Joe Biden was sworn in.
“The US and Israeli officials discussed their serious concerns about advancements in Iran’s nuclear program in recent years. The United States updated Israel on the talks in Vienna and emphasized strong US interest in consulting closely with Israel on the nuclear issue going forward,” a readout from the White House said.
“The United States and Israel agreed on the significant threat posed by Iran’s aggressive behavior in the region, and US officials underscored President Biden’s unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself,” the statement added.
Israel and the US have the same goal – preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon – but disagree about how it should be done. Israeli leaders oppose US efforts to resurrect the Joint Plan of Comprehensive Action (JCPOA) 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018. The Biden administration has made re-entering or renegotiating the deal a top policy priority, and hope an agreement could put limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Also present at the meeting was Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan, who told The Jerusalem Post, “We made our clear opposition to the return of the JCPOA.”
“We said that it is a flawed and bad agreement, and returning to the same deal makes it less likely to reach a better one in the future. We also made our position clear about maintaining Israel’s freedom of operation in any scenario,” he added. “But with that being said, we share the same goal: preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. However, our conversation today is not only about Iran, but also about regional issues such as Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinians.”
Ben-Shabbat and Sullivan lead a bilateral strategic group aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. The group has already met twice virtually. The White House said on Tuesday another bilateral group will be established, but this one will focus on Iranian drones and missiles “produced by Iran and provided to its proxies in the Middle East region.”
Israel’s meetings in Washington aren’t enough to stop world powers from moving forward with the nuclear deal. In Vienna, Russia's top representative Mikhail Ulyanov said he had a “very fruitful meeting” with the remaining signatories of the agreement - China, Germany, France, and Britain.
Ulyanov tweeted that they were “guided by the unity of purpose.”
“Which is full restoration of the nuclear deal in its original form,” he wrote. “It was decided to expedite the process.”
A US delegation is in Vienna undergoing indirect talks with Iran.
The reimposition of American sanctions after the US left the deal in 2018 has crippled Iran’s economy. Tehran has reacted by steadily increasing its violations of the deal, like increasing its enrichment of uranium in a bid to pressure world powers to provide sanctions relief. Iran now has enough enriched uranium to build a bomb, but nowhere near the amount it had before the deal was signed.
Iran insists it does not seek to develop a bomb, but Israel claims it does and that its nuclear program presents an existential threat to the Jewish State. Israel says it has military plans to attack Iran's nuclear program if need.
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