Blinken in Israel to meet Arab ministers as Iran nuclear talks advance

A handout picture provided by the Palestinian Authority's press office (PPO) shows Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (R) receiving US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ramallah on March 27, 2022. (Photo: PPO / AFP)
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — The US and Israel “see eye-to-eye” on preventing Iran from obtaining atomic weapons, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday, before talks in Israel with Arab foreign ministers skeptical of a nuclear pact with Tehran.اضافة اعلان

Blinken was meeting top Israeli officials in Jerusalem as signals mount that the tattered 2015 landmark deal Tehran signed with major powers will soon be restored. 

Israel fiercely opposed the initial accord, which promised its enemy Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program, and has said that a revived agreement will not do enough to curb the Iranian threat.

Speaking alongside his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid, Blinken said the US believes restoring the agreement is “the best way to put Iran’s program back in the box that it was in but has escaped from ” after the US withdrew from the deal under former president Donald Trump in 2018.

Despite long-standing disagreements with Israel over the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Blinken stressed that “when it comes to the most important element, we see eye to eye”.

“We are both committed, both determined, that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Iran insists its nuclear program is for civilian use only. 

‘United front’

Lapid said Israel had “disagreements” with Washington about the Iranian nuclear issue, which it was airing with its key ally in “open and honest dialogue”.

“Israel will do anything we believe is needed to stop the Iranian nuclear program. Anything,” Lapid said.

“From our point of view, the Iranian threat is not theoretical. The Iranians want to destroy Israel. They will not succeed. We will not let them.”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, following his meeting with Blinken, said Israel was specifically “concerned about the intention to de-list” Iran’s Islamic  Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Tehran has said that taking the IRGC off a US terror list is a condition for restoring the deal.

Speaking in Doha on Sunday, US envoy Robert Malley said “the IRGC will remain sanctioned under US law”.

Blinken and Lapid will both attend a Sunday–Monday meeting in Israel’s Negev desert with foreign ministers from Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE, and Morocco.

The JCPOA has long been a source of concern for US allies in the Middle East, who see Iran as a menace.

Uzi Rabi, head of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, told AFP that the Negev meet was in part aimed at sending a message — to Tehran and Washington — as the Iran talks approach a possible conclusion.

“Iran should understand that there is a kind of united front against it,” Rabi said.

“The most important message to be delivered is that there are many in the Middle East who are not satisfied with US performance regarding Iran.”

The UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco established full ties with Israel under Trump-brokered deals in 2020-2021. Egypt had in 1979 become the first Arab country to establish relations with Israel.

Iran has been engaged for months in talks in Vienna to revive the accord with Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia directly. The US has been taking part indirectly in the negotiations.

The EU’s foreign policy chief said at the weekend that a deal with Iran will likely be renewed “in a matter of days”.

Blinken also meet Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, part of the Biden administration’s efforts to rebuild ties with the PA that collapsed under Trump.

The Trump administration slashed support for the Palestinians and closed the US consulate in Jerusalem dedicated to Palestinian relations.

Tensions in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their future capital, partly fueled violence last May with Hamas who control the Gaza Strip.

Blinken said he and Bennett discussed strategies to ensure calm this year during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover holiday, which overlap.

Blinken stressed the need to “prevent actions on all sides that could raise tensions, including settlement expansion” in occupied Palestinian territories.

Bennett is the former head of a settler lobby council and opposes Palestinian statehood.

Blinken’s comments marked a rare in-person condemnation of Israeli efforts to expand the settler population.

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