President Joe Biden made his first phone call to PM Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday night, Feb. 17 amid intense White House preparations for the president’s first multilateral appearances on his administration’s foreign policy. The hour-long conversation focused heavily on Iran and triggered speculation over Biden’s stance on the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPIA) when he addresses the Munich security conference on Friday and the G7 next week, hosted by British PM Boris Johnson. Both events will be virtual under covid restraints.
DEBKAfile’s sources disclose that President Biden gave PM Netanyahu a preview of his stance on the Iranian nuclear issue, making Netanyahu the first Mid-East leader to receive a call from Biden and the first to hear about his intentions with regard to Iran.
Alongside their conversation, German Chancellor Angela Merkel put in a call on Wednesday to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and offered some sage advice. Now is the time for positive signals that would build confidence and increase the chances of a diplomatic solution, she said. No “or else” was spelled out in her comment, but the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas followed her with a blunt warning. He said that Iran’s latest moves jeopardized the return of the US to the nuclear deal. Talks “are being significantly complicated at the moment because,” he said, “Iran obviously does not seek de-escalation but escalation – and this is playing with fire.” Worried German, French and British foreign ministers plan to confer urgently with US Secretary of State Tony Blinken. They believe that the future of the nuclear deal is hanging in the balance, especially since Iran is threatening to block snap inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog from next Tuesday – another poke in the eye for President Biden and his hope of reviving the accord. IAEA head Rafael Mariano is due to visit in Tehran on Saturday.
Tehran has been upping the ante and the pressure on Washington since President Biden’s recent comment that Iran has to stop enriching uranium before the US will lift sanctions. How exactly he intends to bring about renewed nuclear negotiations with Iran is still unknown. His administration is reluctant to make the running by easing some of the sanctions imposed by Trump on the Islamic Republic. Our sources explain this by the conviction in the White House that any concession would simply whet the appetites of the ayatollah’s regime. A total lifting of all sanctions would then be demanded for a return to the table.
President Rouhani told a cabinet meeting in Tehran on Wednesday: “If the Americans take one step, we will take one step. If the Americans take all the steps at once, we will take all the steps at once. If they want to do it gradually, fine. If they want nothing, again fine.” Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was more aggressive: “The Islamic Republic will not be satisfied this time with words and promises. If we see action from the opposite side, we will act too,” he said.