Nuclear Iran: Diplomatic path remains best option, but we have other avenues - US official

For the third time since August, Israeli National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata will meet with his US counterpart, Jake Sullivan, to discuss regional issues: Iran, the Palestinians and more.

The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, before the beginning of a board of governors meeting, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER/FILE PHOTO)
The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, before the beginning of a board of governors meeting, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER/FILE PHOTO)

WASHINGTON – The US remains interested in pursuing a diplomatic path with Iran, “but we are not going to pay up front – we’ve made that very clear,” a US senior administration official told reporters on Monday.  

As Israeli National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata headed to Washington to meet with his US counterpart, Jake Sullivan, the official said that the two sides are expected to discuss several regional issues, including Iran, the Abraham Accords and the Palestinians.

“Based on our many engagements with Israeli officials, it is clear that we have a common [understanding in our] assessment of the extent to which Iran’s nuclear program has dramatically broken out of the box since the previous [Trump] administration left the Iran nuclear deal,” the official said. “This is reflected in the recent IAEA report.”

The administration remains committed to a diplomatic path, the official clarified. “We think that is the best way to put a ceiling on a program and roll back the gains that Iran has made in recent years on the nuclear side. But, obviously, if that doesn’t work, there are other avenues to pursue.

“We are very closely aligned on how we see the bigger picture,” he said. “We don’t see eye to eye on every single issue, but there’s a great deal of alignment – both in how we see the challenges presented, particularly by Iran, and how to ensure that we are effectively utilizing the full range of tools at our disposal.”

 US national security adviser Jake Sullivan takes part in a news briefing about the situation in Afghanistan at the White House in Washington, US, August 17, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS) US national security adviser Jake Sullivan takes part in a news briefing about the situation in Afghanistan at the White House in Washington, US, August 17, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)

Speaking about the prospects of returning to the indirect negotiations in Vienna, the official said that the Iranians “are sending indications to a number of parties that they are preparing to come back to Vienna – and, of course, we’ll have to see whether they reengage in that process constructively or not.

“We’re very much looking forward to this visit,” the official told reporters on Monday. “[We had] a fairly intensive period as usual in Middle East diplomacy – most of it, of course, behind the scenes.”

The official noted that this is the third time that Sullivan has hosted Hulata since August.

“We feel that we’ve established a very good rhythm of engagement and consultation with the new Israeli national security team,” he said.  

THE CLIMAX of Hulata’s visit will be an in-person meeting of the US-Israel Strategic Consultative Group on Tuesday morning, the official said.

The SCG is a bilateral interagency dialogue shared by the two national security advisers. This would be the first in-person meeting of the group, which was established in March.

“It’s an opportunity for the national security advisers to lead a structured discussion joined by the leading experts on these issues from across our respective interagency,” the official said. “The agenda for Tuesday’s meeting will focus on regional issues and, of course, Iran. We look to deepen consultations.”

The official said that since Bennett’s coalition has come to power, “we have been engaged in almost daily, increasingly constructive and very deep consultations between our governments at how to effectively address many regional challenges, including the threat posed by Iran,” the official added. “We’ve been working very closely with the Israelis and many of our regional partners on the threat posed by the Iranian-backed UAV network.”

In addition to the SCG meeting, Hulata and Sullivan will hold a separate bilateral meeting to discuss additional issues.

“That discussion will focus on our strong support for Israel’s security, including our full support for Iron Dome funding, and we understand that leadership is actively working to get that passed, as we continue to engage them on what the path forward might look like,” the official said.

The two are also expected to discuss efforts to encourage further developments to the Abraham Accords, “both in strengthening [relations,] existing relationships and identifying new opportunities,” the official added. “We have worked behind the scenes to help strengthen the existing Abraham Accords, and we’re very much engaged in working to expand them. I do not have anything new to announce on any new agreements, but we are working on those, and that’ll be a topic of our discussion.”

Addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the official said: “We’ll also raise the current situation with Palestinians, including the importance of ensuring calm in Gaza, the importance of efforts to dampen potential flash points in the West Bank in Gaza, and take steps to improve the lives of Palestinians.

“We inherited a situation in which all communication channels with the Palestinians were nearly severed, and we’ve been working to restore those in consultation with the Israeli government, really since day one and particularly in recent months,” the official said.

“We have an ongoing, candid dialogue with the Israelis about efforts to advance peace, security and prosperity for both Israelis and Palestinians,” he said. “The Israeli government and the Bennett [administration] are well aware of our views.

“We believe it’s vitally important to refrain from actions that could be viewed as provocative, contribute to the perception of unfairness, and undermine efforts to build trust that was required for efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, which is the position President [Joe] Biden has taken for his entire career.”