Bahraini FM urges Biden to talk to Mideast partners before reentering Iran deal

Call comes after Israel, Saudis urged new administration not to return to 2015 agreement, which US president-elect promised to do during his campaign

Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif  al-Zayani looks on during a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their trilateral meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/Pool via AP)
Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani looks on during a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their trilateral meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/Pool via AP)

Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani on Wednesday urged the incoming Biden administration to consult with its allies in the Middle East before renegotiating a nuclear deal with Iran.

Speaking in an interview with the Axios website during a visit to Israel, al-Zayani took a more cautious tone than that of Israel and Saudi Arabia, which have both urged US President-elect Joe Biden not to rejoin the 2015 deal, as Biden said he would during his campaign.

“We need to be consulted if the US pursues such an agreement with Iran,” al-Zayani said. “Any nation concerned by Iran’s belligerence should, and will, make their case.”

“We will certainly make our views known. We have a close and open dialog with the United States, so I am sure that other regional states will make these concerns absolutely clear,” he said, noting that a lot had changed in the region over the last four years.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, speaks at an event in Detroit, on June 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya/File)

On Monday Israel’s Ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, said it would be a “mistake” for the US to reenter the deal, originally negotiated by the Obama administration.

“I think it would be a mistake and hopefully he will look at the Middle East as it is, he will see the benefits of [the normalization] process, of how he can continue that process, and I think to not go back into the same deal,” Dermer said during a panel with his Emirati and Bahraini counterparts in Washington hosted by the Economic Club.

Those sentiments were echoed on Tuesday by Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud.

“While we all aspire to have Iran back as a normal peaceful nation-state within the international community, the last forty years’ experience with the Iranian regime is not encouraging,” said Faisal in a speech to the National Council on US-Arab Relations, in which he also warned Biden against repeating past “mistakes.”

Reentering the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, as Biden has said he wishes to do, “would not do service to stability in our region. Rejoining and then negotiating the other important issues would trap diplomacy and subject it to Iranian blackmail,” the envoy added.

The nuclear deal with Iran was clinched in 2015 when Biden was vice president. US President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact in 2018 and restored sanctions.

Israel is also preparing for a major shift in US policy toward the region, with the Walla news site reporting that Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi has set up a small team in his office that will be tasked with producing a strategy to ensure Jerusalem is kept in the loop on the incoming Biden administration’s efforts to reenter the nuclear deal.

“We do not want to be left out again,” Ashkenazi said in a closed briefing before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee last week, according to Walla.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi talks to the media at a news conference in front of the Liebermann Villa at Wannsee Lake in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020. (Michele Tantussi/Pool Photo via AP)

The foreign minister said the government should refrain from repeating past mistakes that left it isolated as the Obama administration negotiated the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led an aggressive public campaign against the accord that climaxed with a speech before a joint session of Congress that was organized behind the back of then-president Barack Obama.

But within the current Israeli government, there is no uniform policy on the issue, with Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz believed to hold a more moderate position than that of Netanyahu, who openly backed Trump’s sanctions regime.

According to Walla, Ashkenazi told lawmakers last week that the Foreign Ministry believes Biden will make good on his election promise to return to the accord.

Ashkenazi said the goal of the team he’ll be heading will be to ensure that Israeli concerns are taken into account when the US and Iran renegotiate the deal. That is only expected to happen, however, after the US reenters the accord and Tehran returns to complying with it, according to the report.

The UN’s atomic watchdog agency said last week that Iran has continued to increase its stockpile of low-enriched uranium far beyond the limits set in in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and to enrich it to a greater purity than permitted.

This photo released Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

Iran’s foreign minister said Tuesday that Tehran was willing to return to the nuclear deal if Biden lifts sanctions on Iran after entering the White House.

“We are ready to discuss how the United States can reenter the accord,” Zarif told Iranian media, according to a translation by the Reuters news agency.

“If Mr. Biden is willing to fulfill US commitments, we too can immediately return to our full commitments in the accord… and negotiations are possible within the framework of the P5+1,” Zarif said, referring to the six world powers that signed onto the deal.

The Trump administration is reportedly planning a bevy of wide-ranging sanctions on Iran to make it more difficult for the incoming administration to reenter the nuclear deal.

Last week, former Biden aide Amos Hochstein told Israel’s Channel 12 that rejoining the Iran nuclear deal was “high on his agenda” and that the US president-elect would move to reenter the international pact shortly after taking office.

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