Blinken, Yossi Cohen meet in Washington as Israel presses its case on Iran

Israeli officials say US ‘respects’ Israel’s ‘freedom of action’; US says it’s acting with ‘transparency’ toward Jerusalem, both nations ‘share a common interest’ on Iran

Secretary of State Antony Blinken participates in a virtual bilateral meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (Leah Millis/Pool via AP)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken participates in a virtual bilateral meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (Leah Millis/Pool via AP)

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met Thursday in Washington with visiting Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and Israel’s ambassador Gilad Erdan, as Israel sought to convince Washington to seek an improved deal to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons rather than reenter the limping 2015 accord.

The two-hour meeting was the second this week in Washington involving senior officials from the two countries and underscored Israel’s unease with ongoing indirect nuclear negotiations between Iran and the United States in Vienna, the officials said. Although other issues were discussed, Israel used Thursday’s meeting to “express strong concerns” about Iran, one of the officials said.

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. Cohen and 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.

Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a cyber conference at Tel Aviv University on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

Earlier Thursday, Erdan said the US understood Israel retained “freedom of action” to act against Iranian activities that threatened the Jewish state.

“The freedom of action of Israel to prevent Iran from becoming an existential threat is a freedom of action that will be preserved,” Erdan said, adding that “the current government respects” that Israeli demand.

As the officials met in Washington, Israel’s intelligence minister, Eli Cohen, joined the chorus of Israeli officials sounding the alarm on Iran and insisting on Israel’s operational freedom.

Israeli warplanes, Cohen said, “can reach everywhere in the Middle East — and certainly Iran.”

He warned that “a bad deal will send the region spiraling into war. Anyone seeking short-term benefits should be mindful of the longer term. Israel will not allow Iran to attain nuclear arms. Iran has no immunity anywhere.”

Cohen also urged international pressure on Iran’s other activities, including its “destabilizing other countries.”

Mossad chief Cohen and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat have been in Washington for the past few days for high-level meetings with American counterparts seeking to clarify Israel’s position and needs as the Biden administration works to rejoin the 2015 deal imposing limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of US and international sanctions.

State Department Spokesman Ned Price on Thursday would not confirm the Cohen-Blinken meeting, but said the two countries were coordinating closely on the Iran issue.

“We have, as you’ve heard from State Department officials, updated our Israeli counterparts before every round of negotiations, after every round of negotiations and we’ve been consulting with them during these negotiations as well,” Price said, according to The Hill.

“So, we have conducted ourselves with a great deal of transparency knowing that the United States and Israel share a common interest here, of course, and that is seeing to it that Iran is verifiably and permanently prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

A Tuesday meeting between Ben-Shabbat and his American counterpart Jake Sullivan also dealt with the “significant threat” of Iran’s behavior in the region, the White House said at the time.

Israeli officials, including Ambassador Gilad Erdan (R), National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat (2R) meet with US officials Brett McGurk (L), US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan (2L) and Barbara Leaf (3L) at the Israeli embassy in Washington DC on April 27, 2021 (Embassy of Israel)

Price also told reporters on Thursday that US Special Envoy on Iran Robert Malley joined in on the Ben-Shabbat-Sullivan meeting to brief the two officials on efforts in Vienna to bring the US and Iran back to the table.

The two national security advisers agreed at the meeting to establish an interagency working group dealing with the threat to Israel and other US allies in the region from Iranian drones and precision-guided missiles.

The Biden administration has said returning Iran to compliance with the nuclear deal was a priority after former president Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in 2017.

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