US and Israeli military leaders voiced strong concern at a Pentagon meeting about Iran’s nuclear advances on Thursday, with Israel expressing a goal of deepening dialog on joint military readiness to be able to halt Iran’s regional aggression and nuclear aspirations.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said ahead of meeting with visiting Defense Minister Benny Gantz that he was deeply concerned about Iran’s lack of constructive diplomatic engagement and cautioned that President Joe Biden was “prepared to turn to other options” if the current American policy on Iran fails.
Reuters, citing a senior US official, exclusively reported that Thursday’s US-Israeli agenda was expected to include discussions about possible military exercises that would prepare for a worst-case scenario to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities should diplomacy fail and if their nations’ leaders request it.
The scheduled US talks with visiting Gantz follow an October 25 briefing by Pentagon leaders to White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on the full set of military options available to ensure that Iran would not be able to produce a nuclear weapon, a US official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official declined to offer details on the potential military exercises.
Kicked off my visit in the U.S. by meeting with @AIPAC leadership, President Betsy Korn, Arne Christenson & Marvin Feuer. A fitting start to our day - reviewing the strategic challenges ahead of us, while reaffirming the importance of a strong & enduring US-Israel friendship. pic.twitter.com/oi9FRCqAci— בני גנץ - Benny Gantz (@gantzbe) December 9, 2021
“We’re in this pickle because Iran’s nuclear program is advancing to a point beyond which it has any conventional rationale,” the official said, while still voicing hope for discussions.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington and Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Gantz, in a post on Twitter as he departed for the United States, said, “We will discuss possible modes of action to ensure the cessation of [Iran’s] attempt to enter the nuclear sphere and broaden its activity in the region.” He did not elaborate.
At the Pentagon on Thursday, Gantz told Austin that he is looking forward to deepening the US-Israel dialogue and cooperation regarding Iran, “including on topics of military readiness.”
“Iran is playing poker with a bad hand and it’s playing on time,” he said. “The international community, with US leadership, has an opportunity to act against Iran’s hegemonic aspirations, restore stability, and prevent the oppression of nations across the region.”
Iran is the biggest threat to global and regional peace and stability and building an existential threat to Israel,” Gantz told Austin at the top of their meeting. “I would like to emphasize that the Iranian people are not our enemy,” said Gantz. “They are being held hostage by a tyrannical regime, which violates their human rights.”
He went on to say that Iran “is not just a threat to our physical security – it poses a concrete threat to our way of life and our shared values. In its aspirations to become a hegemon - Iran seeks to destroy all traces of freedom, human dignity and peace in the Middle East and beyond.”
“The nuclear program is a means to Iran’s hegemonic goals – imposing its radical ideology and threatening Israel’s existence,” Gantz continued. “I am confident in the commitment of the administration, of the US as a global leading power to prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon.”
Under the 2015 accord with major powers, Iran limited its nuclear program – which the West feared would be used to develop weapons, something Tehran denies – in return for relief from US, European Union and UN sanctions.
Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh US sanctions, and Iran began violating the nuclear restrictions a year later.
Indicating that Washington may be losing patience, Biden’s administration is moving to tighten enforcement of sanctions against Iran with the dispatch of a senior delegation to the United Arab Emirates next week, the US State Department said as talks resumed on Thursday in Vienna.
The talks were with the remaining parties to the deal, which does not include the United States, Russia’s top envoy to the talks said on Twitter. The meeting ended within an hour.
“The meeting of the Joint Commission is over. It was rather short and constructive,” Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted. “The participants observed a number of important commonalities in their positions, including with regard to the need to finalize the #ViennaTalks on restoration of #JCPOA successfully and swiftly.”
Iran’s top negotiator said on Thursday he was sticking to positions Tehran set out when nuclear talks broke off last week, while European Union and Russian envoys called for more urgency as world powers resumed negotiations in Vienna.
The indirect US-Iranian talks in Vienna, in which other diplomats from the remaining parties to a now tattered 2015 deal – France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China – shuttle between them because Tehran refuses direct contact with Washington, aim to get both sides to resume full compliance with the accord.
However, last week’s discussions broke off with European and US officials voicing dismay at sweeping demands by Iran’s new, hardline government under anti-Western President Ebrahim Raisi, whose June election caused a five-month hiatus in the talks.
Western officials have said Tehran has abandoned many compromises it had made in the previous six rounds of talks, pocketed those made by others, and demanded more last week.
Iran wants all sanctions, reimposed by the United States in 2018 after then-president Donald Trump ditched the deal, to be lifted in a verifiable process.
“Iran underlined that it is seriously continuing the talks based on its previous position,” chief negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani told reporters after an opening meeting with world powers on Thursday.
“Iran is serious about reaching an agreement if the ground is paved [toward a deal].... The fact that all sides want the talks to continue shows that all parties want to narrow the gaps.”
Speaking to reporters, Enrique Mora, the European Union’s coordinator for the talks, said the sides “don’t have all the time in the world.”
“What I felt this morning was from... all delegations a renewed sense of purpose in the need to work and to reach an agreement on bringing the JCPOA back to life,” Mora said, using the deal’s formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Russia’s envoy said the short meeting had been constructive and that all sides agreed on the need to restore the accord “successfully and swiftly.”•