Israel’s US Diplomatic Blitz to Affect Vienna Nuclear Talks Underway
President, foreign minister, chief of staff all push US counterparts for improved deal with Iran
Outgoing Israeli President Reuven Rivlin arrived in Washington on Monday, becoming the first Israeli official to meet with United States President Joe Biden since the latter’s election.
“I’m looking forward to highlighting the strength of the bilateral relationship between our two nations and working together to achieve security and stability in the region,” Biden tweeted an hour before the start of the meeting.
The two leaders’ sit-down followed a similar meeting held the day before in Rome between Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. A major topic of discussion reportedly was the Iran nuclear deal, which the Biden administration has said it plans to reenter.
American and Iranian negotiators have been holding indirect talks in Vienna in recent months, over a potential return to the abandoned 2015 deal which placed limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in return for international sanctions relief.
“Israel has some serious reservations about the Iran nuclear deal being put together in Vienna. We believe the way to discuss those disagreements is through direct and professional conversations, not in press conferences,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement to The Media Line.
On Sunday, Lapid insisted that “there is no relationship more important to Israel than the United States of America. There is no friend more loyal to the United States than Israel.”
The top diplomat, only two weeks into the job, went on to accuse the previous Israeli administration of damaging the relationship. “In the past few years mistakes were made. Israel’s bipartisan standing was hurt. We will fix those mistakes together,” Lapid said.
Lapid noted his counterpart’s past, pointing out that Blinken also “grew up in the home of a Holocaust survivor, who always said that the world has a responsibility to ensure Israel’s peace and security.”
“Mr. Secretary, I know we can count on you. We will have disagreements, but they are not about the essence, they are about how to get there. We want the same things; we sometimes disagree about how to achieve them,” Lapid also said.
In his subsequent remarks, Blinken stressed the White House’s “deep, enduring and binding commitment … to Israel’s security,” but largely sidestepped the negotiations with Iran.
Israel in the meanwhile will try to obtain as much as possible from the US, both in terms of the restrictions and conditions placed within the agreement on Iran, as well as compensation in terms of military aid
On Friday, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi concluded his week-long visit to the US, where he discussed the latest advancements on the Iranian front with top defense officials.
Coinciding with the successive American-Israeli summits in Rome and Washington, US forces early Monday morning carried out targeted airstrikes against Iran-backed military factions in Iraq and Syria.
The raids destroyed operational and weapons storage bases, which were being “utilized by Iran-backed militias … in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq” in recent weeks, a Pentagon statement read.
While no casualties were mentioned in the Defense Department’s statement, unverified local reports counted at least five dead soldiers in the bombings, the second such attacks authorized by Biden since taking office.
The remaining 2,500 American troops and contractors stationed in Iraq have come under repeated drone and rocket attacks in recent months, mostly blamed on the Shiite militias supported financially and armed by Tehran.
It remains unclear how Monday’s events in the Middle East will affect the talks in the Austrian capital, set to resume in early July.
While European mediators have expressed hope that an agreement can be reached, recent snags concerning removal of sanctions by the US led Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Saturday to threaten that “Iran will not negotiate forever.”
After then-President Donald Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions, the Islamic Republic gradually began breaching the pact’s limits on its nuclear program, enriching uranium at increasingly higher levels and ending international monitoring of its various facilities.
Another possible hurdle on the way to a revived deal could be Iran’s latest refusal to extend an interim arrangement with the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, which temporarily allowed continued oversight of several sites.
The contract, which expired over the weekend, was reached after Tehran’s parliament terminated the original monitoring agreement in May, and enabled the IAEA to place cameras in a handful of agreed-upon locations, the tapes of which were to be saved in Iran and viewed by the nuclear watchdog at a later date.
“Iran is in no hurry, they’ll wait till Aug. 3 at the earliest,” when Iran’s President-elect Ibrahim Raisi assumes office, Professor Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies and a senior researcher at the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The Media Line. “Only then will they start moving to seal the deal,” Rabi said.
“Israel in the meanwhile will try to obtain as much as possible from the US, both in terms of the restrictions and conditions placed within the agreement on Iran, as well as compensation in terms of military aid,” he added.