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CIA Director on Visit to Israel, Palestinian Territories

US Central Intelligence Agency chief William Burns is on a visit to Israel for talks that will focus on the countries’ common adversary, Iran.

With tensions on the rise in the region, Tehran and Washington’s efforts to restore the 2015 landmark nuclear deal seem to be impeded by demands from both sides.

The two sides are re-evaluating their negotiation approaches before they resume in Vienna.

Eli Nesan, an Israeli political analyst, told The Media Line that the aim of the visit was for the US and Israel to strategize before the start of talks in Vienna at the beginning of next month.

“Israel has made several observations and warnings to the United States on this issue, and it will be a priority for discussions between Israeli officials and William Burns.”

Iran’s newly inaugurated president, Ebrahim Raisi, the hard-line cleric and protégé of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, took office last week amid growing challenges for Iran, whose economy has been crippled by US-led sanctions.

“Iran poses a threat to many countries in the region and any agreement that does not carry reassurances for these countries will keep tension present,” says Nesan.

Tehran and world powers are involved in talks in Vienna in an effort to return Washington to the 2015 nuclear deal, lift sanctions and bring Iran back in compliance with nuclear commitments it waived in retaliation for sanctions.

Tensions with the US have soared since 2018, when then-President Donald Trump pulled out of a multilateral deal over Iran’s nuclear program and restored sanctions.

Burns’ visit, his first since assuming office in March, comes amid what analysts have described as a “shadow war” that has seen several attacks on vessels linked to Iran and Israel.

Late last month, the Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned, Liberian-flagged oil tanker, managed by Israeli-owned, London-based Zodiac Maritime, came under attack.

Its Romanian captain and a British bodyguard were killed.

The US, UK and Israel blamed Iran for the deadly attack.

This was the fifth attack against a ship connected to Israel since February, while Iran accuses Israel of carrying out several attacks on its vessels recently.

Iran dismissed the allegations.

Iran has also accused Israel of sabotaging its nuclear sites and killing a number of its scientists.

A career diplomat, Burns played a key role in the US rapprochement with Iran that led to the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the major world powers.

Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah confirmed to The Media Line that director Burns will meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Majed Faraj, the head of the PA’s General Intelligence Service.

“It’s not surprising that Burns visits Ramallah at this critical time for the PA,” Hassan Awwad, a US-based expert on Palestinian affairs, told The Media Line. “Abbas has been under tremendous pressure from the Palestinians to hold elections and introduce political reforms.”

Abbas postponed legislative and presidential elections last April.

The rare polls were slated to take place in May.

“There are close relations between the Palestinian intelligence service and the CIA, and the meeting will discuss several matters, including stability in the Palestinian territories because there are fears that Hamas may attempt to destabilize the situation. Also, aid to the Palestinian security apparatus is on the agenda.”

Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated throughout the West Bank over the summer against Abbas.

Protesters in Ramallah chanted, “The people want the fall of the regime” and urged Abbas to step down.

“Neither the Americans nor the Europeans will allow the collapse of the PA, that’s why Burns is meeting with top officials,” says Awwad.