Al-Jazeera / October 13, 2021
Speaking alongside Israeli FM, Antony Blinken says US will look at every option to address Iran’s nuclear program.
Israel “reserves the right” to act against Iran, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has said, suggesting that “force” may be necessary to stop the Iranian nuclear program.
Speaking at a joint news conference in Washington, DC with his Emirati and US counterparts on Wednesday, Lapid said the “civilized world” should make it clear that Iran will not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.
“Secretary of State [Antony] Blinken and I are sons of Holocaust survivors; we know there are moments when nations must use force to protect the world from evil,” Lapid said.
Lapid’s remarks came at a time when indirect talks between Washington and Tehran to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are on pause, with the Biden administration calling for negotiations to resume as soon as possible.
The multilateral agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), saw Iran scale back its nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of sanctions against its economy.
Lapid said Iranians will “race to the bomb” if they do not believe that the world is serious about stopping them. “Israel reserves the right to act at any given moment in any way,” he said. “That is not only our right; it is also our responsibility.”
Iranian officials deny that the country is looking to build a nuclear bomb. Israel’s critics often point out that the country is suspected to have its own covert nuclear arsenal and that unlike Iran, Israel is not a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
On Wednesday, Blinken reiterated the US administration’s support for a “diplomatic path” to resolve concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, but he said Tehran’s lack of response to Washington’s calls for talks has not been encouraging.
“It takes two to engage in diplomacy,” Blinken said, cautioning that time is running out to revive the deal. “We’re getting closer to a point at which returning to compliance with the JCPOA will not in and of itself recapture the benefits of the JCPOA,” he added.
Former US President Donald Trump nixed the nuclear deal in 2018 as part of his “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran, under which the US piled sanctions on the country. In response, the Iranian government pushed its nuclear program beyond the limits set by the agreement.
The Biden administration has said it is seeking to restore the deal, but six rounds of talks in Vienna have failed to revive it. The negotiations have been paused since June with the election of conservative Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
For weeks, the Biden administration has been floating the prospect of “other options” to address Iran’s nuclear program, without elaborating on what those are. On Wednesday, Blinken said the US and its partners would look at “every option to deal with the challenge posed by Iran”.
“To be very clear, Israel has the right to defend itself, and we strongly support that proposition,” Blinken said in response to a question about Israeli posture towards Iran.
Iran has blamed Israel for a sabotage campaign against its nuclear program, including cyberattacks and the assassination of nuclear scientists.
Wednesday’s joint news conference between the top diplomats of the US, UAE and Israel came shortly after the first anniversary of normalization agreements between Israel and several Arab states.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced that he would soon visit Israel at Lapid’s invitation, calling his Israeli counterpart “a friend and a partner”.
The UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan normalized relations with Israel last year as part of what the Trump administration, which helped broker the deals, called the Abraham Accords.
The agreements have angered Palestinian leaders, who last year slammed the normalization effort as a “stab in the back” to the Palestinian cause.
On Wednesday, Blinken reasserted that Washington’s supports the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, citing US President Joe Biden as saying that Israelis and Palestinians “deserve to live safely and securely and to enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity [and] democracy”.
While the Biden administration has been promoting the two-state solution, its Israeli allies have explicitly rejected the possibility of allowing a Palestinian state to be established.
At a joint news conference with Angela Merkel earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pushed back against the German chancellor’s call for Palestinians to “live securely” in their own state.
“Based on our experience, the meaning of a Palestinian state means that very likely there will be established a terror state, roughly seven minutes from my house and from almost any point in Israel,” said Bennett.
Israel has also expressed opposition to the Biden administration’s plan to reopen the US consulate for Palestinians in East Jerusalem that was shuttered by Trump. But nearly nine months into Biden’s time in the White House, he has not established the diplomatic post.
On Wednesday, Blinken said the US is still committed to the plan. “We will be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of deepening those ties with the Palestinians,” he told reporters.
Al-Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from the State Department, said Blinken did not provide a timeframe for the move, however. “There’s no timeline set on this, it’s very much a political issue … for the government of Naftali Bennett, the Israeli prime minister,” she said.
US weighing all options if Iran does not return to nuclear deal, envoy says
Middle East Eye / October 13, 2021
Robert Malley said Washington needs to coordinate with Israel and Gulf allies on ways to curb Tehran’s nuclear program, if talks fall through.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Malley took a more cautionary tone in addressing the future of US-Iranian nuclear negotiations.
“We will be prepared to adjust to a different reality in which we have to deal with all options to address Iran’s nuclear program if it’s not prepared to come back into the constraints of 2016,” he said, referring to the year the Iran nuclear deal was put into effect.
In 2018, former US President Donald Trump left the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and re-imposed devastating sanctions on Tehran.
Iran continued to abide by the agreement but since 2019 has reduced its commitments.
When President Joe Biden took office in January, he and his administration sought a return to the accord, but negotiations have hit an impasse. The last round of negotiations ended in June without a set date for the next round.
Malley, who has been leading the negotiations for the Biden administration, said that early on Washington had made it clear to Iran that if it returned to compliance under the JCPOA, the US would lift all sanctions inconsistent with the deal.
Malley called this a “major confidence-building measure”. However, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted in June that hundreds of additional sanctions relating to Tehran’s “destabilizing” behaviour would remain.
In August, during a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Biden also spoke of the availability of “other options” should negotiations with Iran fail.
Iran’s new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, has said the Islamic Republic is prepared to return to the negotiating table, but not under western “pressure”.
Coordinating with Israel, Gulf allies
The US envoy noted that despite the lack of progress in nuclear negotiations, there appear to be positive developments taking place in the region, pointing out a series of interactions between Gulf countries and Iran.
Saudi and Iranian officials reportedly met in Baghdad in April to discuss their bitter rivalry, and Abu Dhabi conducted secret communications with Tehran, according to a report by the London-based Al-Araby al-Jadeed newspaper.
“Iran’s neighbours are now engaging with Iran. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, all of the other countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council are now having interactions with Iran,” Malley said.
“Those can in fact lead to greater de-escalation if we use them in a proper way and create more incentives to address the nuclear crisis with Iran.”
He made it clear that the US needs to coordinate with its allies in the Middle East to come up with ways to address Iran’s nuclear program, if negotiations fall through completely.
“We’re realistic. We know that there is every possibility that Iran will choose a different path. And we need to coordinate with Israel and other partners in the region,” Malley said.
The envoy added that he will be travelling to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar in the next few days to also coordinate with them over the efforts to return to the deal, and also discuss “what options we have to control Iran’s nuclear programme if we can’t achieve that goal”.
Secretary Blinken is also meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed al-Nahyan on Wednesday, where Malley said they will also be discussing this same issue.
Speaking alongside Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed al-Nahyan on Wednesday, Blinken said that “time is running short” on an Iranian return to full compliance, but stressed that Washington believes “the diplomatic path is the most effective way to ensure” Tehran does not acquire nuclear weapons.
“What we’re seeing from Tehran suggests that they’re not” ready to return to the nuclear deal, Blinken said. “We’re getting closer to a point where returning to full compliance with the JCPOA will not recapture” the benefits of the nuclear deal.
Lapid said: “Every day that passes, every delay in the negotiations, brings Iran closer to a nuclear bomb. If a terror regime is going to acquire a nuclear weapon, we must act. We must make clear that the civilized world won’t allow it.”