Senior Israeli delegation headed to US for Iran talks

Lapid, Blinken talk Iran prior to National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata’s US visit, Biden’s Israel trip • Israel to share results of probe into Abu Akleh’s death

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Riga, Latvia, March 7, 2022. (photo credit: OLIVIER DOULIERY/POOL VIA REUTERS)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Riga, Latvia, March 7, 2022.
(photo credit: OLIVIER DOULIERY/POOL VIA REUTERS)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid discussed their joint confrontation of Iran ahead of an anticipated visit to Washington this week by National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata.

The two men “spoke of common efforts to confront global challenges, including those posed by Iran and its proxies,” the State Department said after Friday’s call.

“Secretary Blinken reiterated the [Biden] Administration’s steadfast commitment to Israel’s security,” it said.

Hulata is expected to arrive with a delegation from the Foreign Ministry, the Mossad and the IDF for a meeting of a joint working group on Iran, known as the Leshem Forum.

They will also discuss the upcoming International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors’ quarterly board meeting on June 6, including the possibility of pushing for condemnation against Tehran.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, accompanied by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaks at a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, US, October 13, 2021. (credit: ANDREW HARNIK/POOL VIA REUTERS)Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, accompanied by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaks at a joint news conference at the State Department in Washington, US, October 13, 2021. (credit: ANDREW HARNIK/POOL VIA REUTERS)

Lapid tweeted that, in his talk with Blinken about the Islamic Republic, there was a discussion of the “global challenges, including dealing with Iran and its terrorist proxies. We agreed to continue to cooperate and act to reduce tensions in the region.”

Hulata’s visit comes amid American pessimism about the revival of the 2015 deal, which the US exited in 2018.

It also comes on the heels of Biden’s decision to retain Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp on its foreign terror list, a move that had been understood to be a stumbling block in reviving the 2015 Iranian deal.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said last week that it was still possible to reach a deal.

Israel had opposed both the initial deal and its revival, and Hulata is likely to discuss alternatives to confronting Iran’s nuclear program.

In their phone call on Friday, Blinken and Lapid also spoke of US President Joe Biden’s upcoming trip to Israel.

“We discussed @POTUS’s expected visit to Israel, and the possibilities for regional progress the president’s visit could bring in the fields of security, the economy and ties between the people of the Middle East.”

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid

No date has been set for Biden’s visit, but it is widely believed that it would take place at the end of June and could possibly include a trip to Saudi Arabia.

Biden has yet to visit either country since taking office in January 2021.

The US is eyeing a possible deal involving the islands of Tiran and Sanafi on the edge of the Gulf of Aqaba, otherwise known as the Strait of Tehran, that could lower oil prices in the US and push forward the normalization of ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The story about such a deal was first reported last week by Walla.

Egypt, which has had possession of the islands, has already agreed to transfer them to Saudi Arabia, but both Jerusalem and Washington have to sign off on the deal.

Israel captured the islands from Egypt during the Six Day War, and they were part of the territory it ceded to Egypt in its 1979 peace deal – in exchange for an international peacekeeping force backed by the US.

Two top American envoys, Amos Hochstein and Brett McGurk, visited Saudi Arabia last week. That trip came a week after Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman was in Washington, where he met with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, McGurk and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz was in Washington at the same time, where he also met with Austin.

Biden has, until now, avoided meeting with Muhammad Bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince. Shortly after taking office, the Biden Administration released a US intelligence report, which found that Bin Salman was responsible for approving an operation that killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

However, in recent months, as gas prices reached an all-time high, the administration reached out to the kingdom and asked that it would boost oil production. The Saudis, according to media reports, refused.

Separately, Lapid and Blinken discussed the investigation into the death of Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh during an IDF raid in Jenin earlier this month.

“We also discussed the tragic death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. I expressed my protest against the biased investigation of her death by the Palestinian Authority as well as the so-called ‘investigation’ by CNN.’

“I emphasized that Israel will share the results of our investigation with the United States as is standard practice between our countries,” Lapid tweeted.

Maariv, Reuters and Omri Nahmias contributed to this report.