U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken asked Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other Israeli officials for their alternative to a nuclear deal with Iran that will limit Tehran’s uranium enrichment, a senior State Department official and an Israeli official told me.
Why it matters: After months of indirect negotiations between Iran and the Biden administration, a draft agreement for returning to the 2015 nuclear deal is almost done.
- The last remaining stumbling block is Iran’s demand that the Biden administration remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations blacklist.
- Israel, together with its Arab allies in the region, is against a U.S. return to the nuclear deal.
Behind the scenes: The Israeli and U.S. officials said the Iran issue was at the center of the meeting between Blinken and Bennett on Sunday, but regardless of the disagreement, the discussion wasn’t tense.
- Blinken asked Bennett for his alternative to the nuclear deal and how he would stop Iran from reaching nuclear weapon capability when its current enrichment pace would allow it to do so within weeks.
- Israeli officials said Bennett told Blinken that Iran can be deterred from moving toward enriching uranium to the military level of 90% if it knows that the U.S. and European countries would ramp up sanctions to the level they’ve placed on Russia.
- Bennett also told Blinken that the nuclear deal will only be “a Band-Aid” solution for just a few years, and at the same time, it will give Iran billions of dollars it would be able to use for its regional malign activities and to arm its proxies, Israeli officials said.
- “It is us here in the region that will have to deal with that afterward,” Bennett told Blinken, according to a senior Israeli official.
The Iran deal also came up during the Negev summit a day later.
- Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s Egyptian, Moroccan, Emirati and Bahraini counterparts raised concerns about the nuclear deal and its regional consequences, stressing they are against the Biden administration removing the IRGC from the FTO blacklist, two senior Israeli officials told me.
State of play: EU political director Enrique Mora was in Tehran on Sunday and met Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator to try to find a compromise regarding the IRGC demand.
- Mora then traveled to Washington for talks with U.S. Iran envoy Rob Malley.
- During a conference in Doha, Qatar, on Sunday, Malley said he doesn’t think a nuclear deal with Iran is around the corner.