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White House adviser seeks common Iran strategy with Israel

December 22, 2021 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) — The United States and Israel need a “common strategy” as world powers negotiate a new nuclear deal with Iran, the White House’s national security adviser said Wednesday.

Jake Sullivan spoke ahead of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other Israeli security officials in Jerusalem. He said the meeting comes at a “critical juncture for both of our countries on a major set of security issues.”

World powers and Iran renewed negotiations in Vienna last month to restore an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Negotiations took a pause last week to allow Iran’s negotiator to return to Tehran for consultations.

Bennett said that “what happens in Vienna has profound ramifications for the stability of the Middle East and the security of Israel for the upcoming years.”

The original deal, struck in 2015, offered Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program. The agreement unraveled after the United States unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and re-imposed crippling sanctions on Iran.

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Since then, Iran has resumed its nuclear program, enriching uranium and operating centrifuges beyond the limits set under the deal.

Israel has been critical of the attempts to reach a new deal with Iran, saying the international community is giving in to “nuclear blackmail.” It says any new agreement must make improvements over the original deal, and that the talks must be accompanied by a “credible” threat by the U.S. to use military force against Iran if necessary.

Israel considers Iran its regional arch-enemy, and says it will take any steps needed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

On Wednesday, Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth published an interview with the incoming Israeli Air Force commander, who said Israel was capable of attacking Iran tomorrow and destroying its nuclear facilities.

“There is no situation in which we operate there and I don’t come home and say, ‘I carried out the mission,’” Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar said.

Later Wednesday, Sullivan went to the Israeli-occupied West Bank to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas’ office said the president raised concerns about Israeli practices that he said undermine hopes for a two-state solution with Israel. These include Israeli settlement construction and its 54-year occupation of territories that Abbas’ administration seeks for a future independent state.

It said Abbas also “pointed out the importance of continuing to work on strengthening bilateral relations” with the U.S., relations that suffered under the previous administration of President Donald Trump.

Abbas’ office quoted Sullivan as affirming the U.S. commitment to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Israel and the Palestinians have not held substantive peace talks in over a decade. Bennett opposes Palestinian statehood, but has said he wants to improve their economy and living conditions.