WASHINGTON (JTA) — Top Israeli and U.S. officials dealing with the Iran file met in a signal of the Biden administration’s efforts to keep Israel in the loop as it moves forward in reentering a nuclear deal that Israel rejects.
Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, met Tuesday with his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat at the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C.
The White House statement after the meeting emphasized areas of concern to Israel.
“The U.S. and Israeli officials discussed their serious concerns about advancements in Iran’s nuclear program in recent years,” the statement said. “The United States updated Israel on the talks in Vienna and emphasized strong U.S. interest in consulting closely with Israel on the nuclear issue going forward. The United States and Israel agreed on the significant threat posed by Iran’s aggressive behavior in the region, and U.S. officials underscored President Biden’s unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Biden and his top officials have acknowledged that keeping Israel sidelined ahead of the 2015 deal, which traded sanctions relief for a rollback in Iran’s nuclear activities, was a mistake and stoked distrust between the Netanyahu and Obama governments.
Former President Donald Trump quit the deal in 2018, saying it did not adequately contain Iran, but failed to make good on his pledge to coerce Iran into a more stringent deal.
Biden wants back into the deal as soon as possible, as he sees it as the best means of keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The parties to the original agreement, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, are meeting in Vienna to work out a sequence.
Israel still opposes reentry to the deal and wants Biden to maintain Trump’s policy of maximum economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the sides agreed to establish a working group to address Iran’s missile program. Trump and Israel have said a critical flaw in the 2015 deal is that it deals only with fissile material enrichment and not with other issues, like its missile program.
Israel’s statement after the meeting was also positive.
“Today, Israel’s National Security Advisor Meir Ben Shabbat and I had an excellent meeting with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan,” Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to Washington and the United Nations, said on Twitter. “We discussed our shared goal of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons and agreed to work together to strengthen our security ties.”