Foreign Minister Lapid in UK as nuclear talks resume

What happened: Foreign Minister Lapid is in London today for talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Minister Liz Truss ahead of the renewal of the nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna.

  • Lapid and Truss co-wrote an op-ed in The Telegraph this morning where they declared that Israel and the UK would sign a major new agreement, “transforming our close friendship into an even closer partnership by formally agreeing a new strategic plan for the next decade spanning cyber, tech, trade and defence”.
  • In addition “Israel will officially become a Tier One cyber partner for the UK, recognising how much more we can achieve together as tech leaders with world-class cybersecurity expertise”.
  • With regard to the nuclear talks, the pair wrote: “We will also work night and day to prevent the Iranian regime from ever becoming a nuclear power. The clock is ticking, which heightens the need for close cooperation with our partners and friends to thwart Tehran’s ambitions.”
  • At yesterday’s cabinet meeting Prime Minister Naftali Bennett commented on the talks Vienna, saying: “Israel is very disturbed by the willingness to lift the sanctions and allow billions to flow into Iran in exchange for insufficient restrictions in the nuclear sphere.”
  • Maariv newspaper quoted a source close to Lapid  who said that he is very sceptical about the talks between the sides ultimately producing a new nuclear agreement. “The Americans also don’t know which direction things are heading; this state of uncertainty is a potential danger. It could very well be that the world powers may try to draw up a ‘chart’ of lifting sanctions in exchange for an artificial suspension of enrichment. That is a highly undesirable situation from Israel’s standpoint.”

Context: This will be the seventh round of talks in an attempt to revive the JCPOA nuclear deal. Israel is hoping the strong relations with Britain and France will help toughen the stance of the P5+1 (UK, US, France, Russia, China and Germany).

  • According to Israeli media, one area that Lapid will focus on with the European allies is to make sure the sanctions on Iran’s banking sector remain in place. The banking sanctions were put in place by President Trump shortly before he left office. They targeted 18 Iranian banks. Israel fears their activity funds many of Iran’s proxies in the region who focus their attacks against Israel. Iran’s negotiating team in Vienna includes senior figures from Iran’s Central Bank and the trade and economy ministries.
  • Another factor for Israel is their increasing concern with the US negotiating position and US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley in particular.
  • Malley visited Israel last week and according to Yediot Ahronot he gave the impression “that the US would be prepared to appease Iran and that he would strive to return to the agreement, at any price”.
  • There is heightened concern in Israel that the US are open for an interim deal, known as “less for less,” where Iran will temporarily freeze uranium enrichment in exchange for lifting some of the sanctions. The Prime Minister’s Office describes this as a “catastrophe” and as a worse capitulation than returning to the original JCPOA. The money that would be released will likely be invested in accelerating the development of warheads and missiles, and in intensifying Iranian military activity in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza.
  • Last week Bennett said that if an agreement were signed, it would not be binding on Israel, also noting, “there may be disagreements with the best of our friends”.
  • Last week President Herzog met with Prime Minister Johnson, who asked him to take a tough stance in nuclear negotiations. Herzog said: “We are looking forward for our allies in the P5+1 to be as tough as possible because we do not believe that they [Iran] are operating in a bona fide manner, and only if all options are on the table may things move in the right direction.”
  • Johnson acknowledged Herzog’s concern, noting the world “doesn’t have much time” to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
  • The talks in Vienna are due to start later today.  There is a strong sense in Israel that Iran will continue to drag out the talks while they continue to enrich uranium, approaching the status of becoming a “nuclear threshold state”.
(Photo: Yair Lapid Twitter, 2019)

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