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PM Bennett says giving Iran sanctions relief will bring more terror

What happened: In a series of interviews published this morning Prime Minister Naftali Bennett related to the Iranian threat.

  • He told Haaretz: “I am determined to prevent Iran not only from a breakthrough to a bomb, but also from getting to where it could break through within a short time. Whether or not there is a deal, we are building a strategy to deal with this.”
  • Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, he said“The last thing you do to a terror state like this is to give them tens of billions of dollars. You should do the opposite, you have to weaken them, set them a choice between the continued pursuit of nuclear weapons or the regime itself.”
  • Bennett told Yediot Ahronot: “The Iranian regime is weak. If the Americans give Iran access to the money that was frozen, they’ll run into this money in the form of terror attacks in Iraq, in Syria, in the Emirates.  This is not the way to behave when dealing with a bully. The Americans have a strong hand, but they are acting as if they have a weak hand. That is the message that we relay to them. Some of them listen.
  • Earlier this week, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Parliament that negotiations in Vienna between the P4+1 and Iran about returning to the JCPOA nuclear deal “is urgent and progress has not been fast enough”.
  • Truss added: “We continue to work in close partnership with our allies but the negotiations are reaching a dangerous impasse. Iran must now choose whether it wants to conclude a deal or be responsible for the collapse of the JCPOA”.
  • The Foreign Secretary warned that were the JCPOA collapse, “all options are on the table”.

Context: The current round of talks in Vienna is the eighth round of negotiations, looking for a way for Iran to return to comply with the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal.

  • The main area of disagreement is the viability of Iran returning to full compliance of the JCPOA. There is concern the original limitations on uranium enrichment from the 2015 deal might no longer be relevant given Iran’s nuclear developments since the US left the agreement.
  • Other unresolved issues relate to the possibly lifting of US sanctions, and US guarantees to remain in the deal.
  • Recent speculation suggests there could be a breakthrough in the negotiations.  Israel is worried that the US negotiating team is softening its position and giving in to Iranian demands.
  • Earlier this week reports said that Richard Nephew, the deputy US negotiator, resigned from his position in December along with two other members of the negotiating team.
  • Nephew was one of the lead architects of the economic sanctions imposed on Iran prior to the JCPOA agreement. He advocated a tougher US negotiating position as opposed to lead negotiator Robert Malley, who is considered far more conciliatory towards the Iranians.
  • In parallel this week US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Dr. Eyal Hulata held a  virtual meeting of the US-Israel Strategic Consultative Group.
  • According to the White House statement, Sullivan emphasised that “while the US remains committed to diplomacy as the best means for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the US is preparing alternative options, in coordination with its partners, should diplomacy fail”.

Looking ahead: No deadline has been set on talks but the US previously set the end of January as an unofficial deadline to assess whether Iran is serious about returning to the JCPOA deal or is just buying time to continue enrichment.

  • Russian ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov suggested this week that if talks continue at the current pace, it is realistic they could reach agreement by the end of February.
  • Bennett also told the Jerusalem Post: “The Israeli strategy doesn’t depend on whether there’s an agreement or not … we will protect ourselves by ourselves. Even if there is an agreement, we’re not committed to it. We will preserve our freedom to act.”
  • Despite disagreements, the US and Israel are expected to remain in close coordination.

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