The US State Department rejected on Monday remarks made by a senior Israeli official who claimed that the Biden administration has effectively given up on the Iranian nuclear talks, insisting that Washington’s efforts to reach an agreement with Tehran were ongoing.
“We have been and are continuing to seek a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] because President Biden is convinced that this is the best way to deliver on his commitment not to allow Iran to possess a nuclear weapon,” said a statement made attributable to an anonymous State Department spokesperson.
The US statement came hours after a senior Israeli official, briefing reporters during Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s visit to Germany, relayed that “The Americans and most Europeans say there’s not going to be a [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action].”
The senior Israeli official said that those who reached this conclusion have offered different “excuses”: Some claim that the deal fell apart because of Iran’s response to the final proposal drafted by the EU; others say it’s because EU Foreign Affairs head Josep Borrell and his chief of staff Enrique Mora got ahead of themselves in the talks; and others argue that the Biden administration “hardened” its positions vis-à-vis Iran as a result of Israeli lobbying against the JCPOA.
Regardless of how the sides ended up where they are, the senior Israeli official said that the time has come to launch “strategic dialogue” with the US and European powers aimed at achieving a “longer and stronger” Iran nuclear agreement.
This was a goal set out by Biden upon entering office, but one of his aides argues won’t be possible until after the US revives the original JCPOA, which former president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 in favor of crushing sanctions against Iran.
The senior Israeli official then indicated that Jerusalem’s “strategic dialogue” with the Biden administration about next steps has already begun, pointing to Lapid’s call with the US president last month along with the recent visits to Washington by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, National Security Council chairman Eyal Hulata, and Mossad chief David Barnea.
The official claimed that Israel has managed to sideline Robert Malley, who helped craft the original agreement signed in 2015 and who has become a frequent target of Israeli criticism.
“This is out of the hands of Malley’s camp by now. The decisive talks we’re having with the US are no longer in Malley’s hands,” said the senior Israeli official.
While the State Department does not frequently respond to comments made by foreign officials criticizing its policies, it chose to do so in this instance, taking the opportunity to refute several claims made by the anonymous Israeli briefer.
“We have a very close dialogue with Israel and other allies and partners about Iran, including the JCPOA. Special Envoy Malley is an integral part of those talks,” the US State Department spokesperson continued in the statement.
“It is not correct that our position has ‘toughened.’ The President has always been very clear about what we need in order to reach an understanding and return to full implementation.”
“There is only one reason that we have not yet reached an understanding: Tehran has not yet accepted the reasonable basis presented by the EU as coordinator of JCPOA talks,” the spokesperson added.
While there had been initial optimism about prospects for reviving the nuclear deal, it has dissipated in recent weeks with the world powers claiming that Iran has made unreasonable demands at the last minute.
A major sticking point had been Tehran’s insistence that the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency drop a probe into unaccounted-for traces of enriched uranium at three sites in Iran, which the agency and the West have rebuffed out of hand.
Israel has long opposed a revival of the 2015 agreement, which has been moribund since the Trump withdrawal and the rapid enrichment of uranium by Iran that followed.
Biden has recognized that the original deal fails to address Iran’s ballistic missile program along with its malignant activities abroad. However, he maintains that the JCPOA at least keeps Tehran’s nuclear program “in a box” and that other issues are only compounded when the program remains unrestrained.
Lapid has said that Israel is not opposed to any deal, but that the specific one being negotiated would still allow Iran to advance towards a nuclear bomb in the future. Israel also insists Iran would use revenue from sanctions relief to bolster allied groups capable of attacking Israelis, notably Lebanese Shiite terror group Hezbollah, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two key Palestinian terror organizations.
The senior Israeli official briefing reporters Monday after Lapid’s meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Jerusalem had played up European jitters over the fact that Russia, which is a party to the JCPOA, will use Tehran as a way to bypass Western sanctions imposed since the invasion of Ukraine.
“We, of course, encourage this,” the official said.
Lazar Berman contributed to this report