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UK and Israel coordinate over Vienna nuclear talks

What happened: Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Naftali Bennett spoke yesterday about the ongoing talks on the Iran nuclear deal in Vienna.

  • Prime Minister Johnson said: “The UK wants to see the negotiations in Vienna lead to full restoration of the JCPOA, but that we need Iran to engage in good faith. The diplomatic door is open, but time is running out to reach an agreement.”
  • They also discussed progress in the fight against coronavirus, the booster vaccinations in both countries, as well as efforts to reopen international travel.
  • According to the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, the pair discussed “the importance of continued bilateral coordination in order to achieve common goals”.
  • Earlier this week Foreign Minister Lapid also related to the resumption of the talks in Vienna. He said, “Israel isn’t automatically opposed to every agreement with Iran, just to an agreement that isn’t good.”
  • Lapid noted that Israel has been holding consultations with the US and the other world powers to influence the wording of the agreement. Lapid said: “We are sitting at the table with the world powers and are holding discussions about what a good agreement would be. The world is attentive to the Israeli position. We are currently engaged in trench warfare to secure small achievements to improve the agreement.”

Context: The UK and Israel have recently enhanced their ties. Prime Minister Johnson has forged a close relationship with Bennett, complimenting his pre-existing ties to Lapid.

  • At the end of November Lapid visited London and signed an MOU reflecting a new ten-year commitment for the UK and Israel to work more closely on cyber, technology, trade and defence.
  • The agreement notes “the importance of joint cooperation in the fields of defence and security as part of the UK-Israel partnership, the UK and Israel will continue their direct and professional bilateral development of the strong defence and security relationship”.
  • At the same time, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Lapid co-wrote an op-ed in The Telegraph relating to the Iranian nuclear threat. 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.”
  • According to Walla News, the head of IDF Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva told the security cabinet meeting on Sunday that Israel would be better off were Iran and the JCPOA signatories to reach an agreement.
    • He said an agreement would increase certainty about the restrictions over their nuclear programme.
    • It would also buy time for Israel to better prepare for a potential military strike.
  • From the same meeting, Mossad Director David Barnea argued Israel still has time to influence the US over the terms of a deal. He is quoted in Israeli media saying: “It isn’t a lost cause, and it’s worth investing time and effort in dialogue with the Americans about the content of the agreement.”
  • Israel has previously expressed concern that a limited deal, referred to as “less for less,” whereby Iran would only freeze the progress made in uranium enrichment (but not give it up) in return for the lifting of sanctions, would allow Iran to bank their progress and receive a huge financial reward.
  • Last month the Israelis noted the hardened stance of the Iranians and concluded that the Vienna talks were being used to buy time to make advances in their uranium enrichment.

Looking ahead: The latest Israeli assessment at this point anticipates an agreement with the P5+1 and Iran will be reached in the next month or so.

  • Prime Ministers Johnson and Bennett also supported the continued negotiations over a UK-Israel Free Trade Agreement.
  • There also confirmed their support for a joint UK-Israel innovation summit in the UK later this year.

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