WASHINGTON – Officials from the administration of US President Barack Obama stressed their intention to maintain a tough stance during talks with Iran, according to Jewish leaders who met with top White House staff on Monday.

Ahead of negotiations in Baghdad over the Iranian nuclear program, the officials said that the US has no plan to reduce sanctions during the talks, and that it was their firm expectation that the EU would still be imposing an oil embargo on Iran at the beginning of July with no exemptions for British shipping insurance, participants said.

Some 70 members of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations met with US Vice President Joe Biden, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides and other administration officials in a series of closed door meetings.

Participants, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the off-the-record briefings, said the officials emphasized that the US was entering the nuclear talks clear-eyed about Iranian intentions and with no plan to reduce pressure in the near term, reiterating that all options remain on the table.

The atmosphere was described as business-like and frank, though several of those in attendance noted that some in the room disagreed with the positions staked out by the administration.

The meeting at the White House, which usually happens once each year, comes as the Obama administration gears up for November’s presidential race. During his meeting with the conference, Biden referenced negative emails circulating to challenge the administration’s support of Israel and went into a lengthy rebuttal against the charges. He also noted that he held a lengthy meeting last week with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, with whom he has a close relationship.

The briefings also come soon after the formation of a national unity government in Israel, which White House officials welcomed as a positive development, according to several participants. The officials were pleased with the change because it offers stability and more opportunities for progress on the peace process by having more elements in the government who support moving it forward. Optimism was also expressed on the Palestinian- Israeli front given recent contact between the two sides.

However, the officials greeted with some skepticism efforts to form a Fatah-Hamas unity government, pointing out that several previous attempts led nowhere. But they repeated the established US requirements that Hamas renounce violence, respect previous agreements and recognize Israel to be eligible for American aid.

Iran, however, was the main topic of discussion, with several different American officials making the point that the US would continue to tighten the sanctions vice on Iran even as talks go on.

The conversation focused on the Iranian issue much more than in previous years when the peace process and US-Israeli relations played a bigger role, according to those present.

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