Blinken meets Mossad chief amid Israeli ‘unease’ over Iran talks

Sharpening Israeli warnings, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Reuters on Thursday that war would be sure to follow if the United States and other powers reached what Israel considers a bad new nuclear deal with Iran.
Friday 30/04/2021
A file picture of Israeli Mossad chief Yossi Cohen in Jerusalem. (AFP)
A file picture of Israeli Mossad chief Yossi Cohen in Jerusalem. (AFP)

WASHINGTON--US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top Biden administration national security aides met Thursday with the chief of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, Joseph (Yossi) Cohen, for talks that focused primarily on Iran, according to officials familiar with the meeting who said Israeli officials expressed “deep concern” about Tehran’s nuclear activities.

The meeting in Washington followed talks this week between US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart in which the Israeli delegation stressed their “freedom to operate” against Iran as they see fit, a source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

As President Joe Biden explores a possible US return to the 2015 deal to contain Iran’s nuclear programme that his predecessor Donald Trump abandoned, Israel has stepped up calls for more sweeping curbs to be imposed on sensitive Iranian technologies and projects.

Sharpening Israeli warnings, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Reuters on Thursday that war would be sure to follow if the United States and other powers reached what Israel considers a bad new nuclear deal with Iran.

Reiterating Israel’s position that it does not consider itself bound by the diplomacy, Cohen said: “A bad deal will send the region spiraling into war.”

The two-hour meeting between Blinken and the Mossad chief was the second this week in Washington involving senior officials from the two countries. This underscored Israel’s unease with ongoing indirect nuclear negotiations between Iran and the United States in Vienna and Iran more broadly, the officials said.

Although other issues were discussed, Israel used Thursday’s meeting to “express strong concerns” about Iran, one of the officials said. The officials were not authorised to discuss the private diplomatic talks and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Blinken attended Thursday’s meeting along with his newly confirmed deputy, Wendy Sherman, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan and two other senior officials, Brett McGurk from the National Security Council and Derek Chollet from the State Department. Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and Israeli ambassador to the United States Gilad Erdan represented Israel.

The State Department declined to comment on the meeting or even to confirm that it had happened, but said the Biden administration is committed to coordination and transparency with Israel in its nuclear diplomacy with Iran.

On Tuesday, Sullivan, McGurk, Chollet and US special envoy for Iran Rob Malley met Erdan and Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat to discuss Iran and other regional matters. Malley departed Washington for Vienna shortly after those talks.

A White House readout of that meeting said the US had “updated Israel on the talks in Vienna and emphasised strong US interest in consulting closely with Israel on the nuclear issue going forward.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday that the Vienna consultations had made some progress, but there is “still a lot of distance to travel” and the sides are “not on the cusp of an agreement.”

The Biden administration has said it is willing to lift certain sanctions on Iran if Iran returns to compliance with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, from which former President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018. Under the accord, Iran got billions of dollars in sanctions relief in return for curbing its nuclear programme. Much of that relief evaporated when Trump pulled out of the deal and re-imposed tough new sanctions on Iran.

A potential US return to the deal along with the sanctions relief it would entail has unsettled both Israel and its Arab neighbours, who fear increasing Iranian assertiveness in the region. Price said an inter-agency team of senior officials would travel to Gulf Arab countries in the coming days to address those concerns. He declined to offer details.