Biden taps former ambassador Dan Shapiro as US liaison to Israel on Iran

Dan Shapiro (Miriam Alster - Flash90)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  August 31, 2021

State Department officials said Shapiro would work under US special envoy to Iran Robert Malley, according to Walla News.

The Biden administration has appointed Dan Shapiro, the former US ambassador to Israel, to work with the State Department’s Iran policy team, Israeli media reported on Monday.

State Department officials told Walla News that Shapiro would work under Robert Malley, the US special envoy to Iran, and would coordinate with Israel on Iran’s nuclear program, but especially on Iranian activity in the region.

Axios reported on Sunday that Shapiro began the role last week and advised White House officials before US President Joe Biden hosted Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for talks on Iran.

Since taking office in January, Biden and his administration have sought a return to the accord but negotiations have hit an impasse since they began in April. The last round of negotiations in June ended without a set date for the next round.

Former US President Donald Trump left the deal in 2018 and re-imposed devastating sanctions on Tehran. Iran continued to abide by the agreement but since 2019 has begun to reduce its commitments.

Bennett pledged to Biden during their Friday meeting that despite opposing a potential Washington move to rejoin the deal, he will not wage a public campaign against a possible American return to the accord, a senior Israeli official told the Times of Israel.

Bennett has sought to move on from former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s combative public style and has promised that any objections he has to a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal would be discussed privately with the White House in a bid to repair strained ties with the Democratic Party and maintain a more bipartisan position with its closest ally.

According to a report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) earlier this month, Iran had increased the purity to which it is refining uranium to 60 percent fissile purity from 20 percent in April. Weapons-grade enrichment is around 90 percent purity.

Iran has insisted its nuclear aims are entirely peaceful and that it is developing a new type of reactor fuel.

Former US ambassador appointed to Biden’s Iran team, exposing Israeli influence

Middle East Monitor  /  August 31, 2021

A former US ambassador to Israel has joined President Joe Biden’s team working on Iran, exposing Israel’s very deep influence in Washington. Dan Shapiro served as ambassador under the administration of former President Barack Obama.

According to a State Department spokesperson, Shapiro has now been appointed as a part-time senior advisor and special government employee as part of a new team working in the Biden administration. “[He] is the first of what we plan to be a small group of part-time advisers, who will add to the diversity of perspective and knowledge” on the team of Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley. The spokesperson added that US policy on Iran “will benefit greatly from the participation of a diplomat of his calibre and experience.”

Shapiro’s appointment is significant not only due to his expertise and experience, but also his connections with Israel. When he stepped down as ambassador, Shapiro settled in the apartheid state and worked at the Institute for National Security Studies as a senior fellow, as well as a principal at consultancy firm WestExec Advisors. He has also maintained close ties with Israeli politicians across the political spectrum.

How all that is relevant to his role in Washington’s team on Iran, however, links back to Israel’s demand that the US should consult it in the ongoing negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal.

Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 deal, and Biden has made it a key objective to restart talks and possibly re-join the other signatories. Israel has repeatedly urged Biden not to do so, however, and demanded that it be involved in any decision-making in this regard.

In May, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the US was consulting with Israel on the nuclear talks. Earlier this month the head of the Central Intelligence Agency made a visit to Israel to discuss the situation in Iran.

Last week – only days before Shapiro’s appointment – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Biden in the White House. Despite no clear plan being outlined for that meeting, Iran was amongst the most prominent agenda items; it was reported earlier that Bennett would present the US government with a new strategy for dealing with the government in Tehran.

The importance of Shapiro to Biden’s Iran team and its coordination with Israel has been acknowledged by many. Former senior advisor to the US government Dennis Ross was quoted by Haaretz describing it as “a very smart move” which “shows that the administration is very serious about coordinating with the Israelis.”