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Amid Iran tensions, Gantz to head to Washington to meet with US counterpart

Defense minister slated to travel next week for meetings with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, fist-bumps US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel on April 12, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, fist-bumps US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel on April 12, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz will travel to Washington next week for a series of meetings with top American officials amid rising tensions with Iran, his office said Thursday.

Gantz was slated to meet with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

According to his office, the defense minister will head to the US late Wednesday night and will “conduct a series of meetings centered on security issues” in Washington, according to his office.

In an interview with Ynet news site on Thursday, Gantz confirmed that Iran would be the main topic of discussion in Washington.

“I am going in order to support international efforts, and I plan to allow the Israeli capability [to strike Iran,” the defense minister said.

Gantz’s visit comes as negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program resumed in Vienna, following months of delays, to discuss a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, after the US abrogated the agreement in 2018 and Iran began openly breaching its terms.

His trip to the US also comes amid an ongoing Israeli high-level diplomatic push on the matter, with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid making trips to London and Paris to shore up support with European allies.

The US and Iran have been at loggerheads over the nuclear issue, with Tehran demanding that the US first remove all the sanctions it has levied against the regime and Washington calling for Iran to end its uranium enrichment and return to the limitations of the JCPOA.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the US State Department in Washington, Nov. 22, 2021. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool via AP)

Iran ignored appeals from Western countries to restart the European Union-led talks for several months, all the while strengthening the capabilities of its nuclear program in violation of the accord.

Israeli officials have expressed serious reservations about the talks, with concern that the US will partially end its sanctions against Iran in exchange for too few concessions from Tehran.

European diplomats indicated that talks on the return to the Iranian nuclear deal are still in very early stages, reported Reuters this week.

File: Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

According to the report, diplomats told reporters that negotiators are still waiting to see if the talks can pick back up where they left off in June, before they were suspended and before the election of the hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

Diplomats from France, the UK and Germany said that the issue of Iran’s centrifuges — which it is using to enrich uranium to levels way beyond that agreed to in the 2015 deal — remains an unresolved issue.

If Iran does not show it is serious about returning to negotiations, the talks could quickly stall, the diplomats reportedly said.

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