US heads for nuclear talks with Iran, unmoved by new data presented by Israeli officials

The high-ranking Israeli officials in Washington carrying new intelligence data on the dangers of Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon, obtained a US promise on Tuesday, April 27 to “consult closely with Israel on the nuclear issue going forward,” an “update on the Vienna talks” and “full agreement on serious concerns about advancements in Iran’s nuclear program in recent years.”

But even after perusing the intelligence data presented by Israeli officials in their bilateral meeting at the Israeli embassy, the US side was clearly determined to go forward with nuclear diplomacy. The decision to set up “a new US-Israel inter-agency working group to “focus on growing threats of UAVs and Precision guided missiles produced by Iran and provide to its Mid-East proxies,” deliberately omitted mention of the most ominous threat, a nuclear-armed Iran.

Speaking for the Israeli delegation, Ambassador Gilad Erdan stressed his government’s continuing objection to the “flawed” deal, a return to which “makes it less likely to reach a better one in the future”.  He also stated that Israel “maintains its freedom of operation in any scenario.”

The meeting was high-powered: Israel was represented by National Security Adviser, Meir Ben Shabbat; as well as Military intelligence (AMAN) chief Brig. Gen. Tamir Hayman; the US by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Barbara Leaf, Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the NSC, Brett McGurk, and Iran Envoy Rob Malley.

The Israeli delegates could have inferred how the first high-level encounter between Israeli and Biden administration officials, would turn out from the flood of leaked US disclosures released on their arrival. The most telling was the secret meeting revealed on Monday, April 26, to have taken place in Baghdad between CIA chief William Burns and Iranian officials at the private residence of Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein, an aspiring candidate for the Iraqi presidency. Burns is an old hand at diplomacy with Iran. In 2013, he met Iranian officials in Oman to push forward the back-channel track that yielded Iran’s nuclear deal with six world powers (JCPOA) two years later.

Questioned later on Burns talks in Baghdad, White House press secretary Jen Psaki referred the reporter to the CIA, which then dismissed the reports as “yellow news.”
Clearly, while President Joe Biden’s officials listened carefully and politely to Israel’s case against the JCPOA, they had no intention of swerving from their path to a nuclear dialogue with Tehran. They were moreover revealed as spreading a wide net of benefits to soften Tehran’s bargaining stance. Sources in Washington disclosed that South Korea is being urged to release a billion dollars of frozen Iranian assets. Furthermore, Robert Malley and Brett McGurk, who led the talks with the Israeli visitors, were squeezing the Iraqi government to unblock another $4 billion of Iranian deposits frozen by US sanctions in Baghdad’s banks.

Those actions hardly accord with the pledge McGuruk made in a briefing on the nuclear diplomacy delivered last Friday to American Jewish leaders: “We are not going to pay anything up front just to get the process going.” He went on to assert: “Until we get somewhere and until we have a firm commitment, and it’s very clear that Iran’s nuclear program is going to be capped, the problematic aspects reversed and back in a box, we are not going to take any of the pressure off.”

Then on Monday, too, former secretary of state John Kerry angrily denied allegations that he had released information on Israeli airstrikes in Syria to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, after Zarif claimed in a leaked interview that he had found out from Kerry that Israel had launched 200 strikes against Iranian forces in Syria. Zarif’s claim drew outrage since it attested to Kerry, top negotiator under two of Biden’s Democratic predecessors, having betrayed Israeli military secrets in his zeal for a deal with Tehran.

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