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Bennett seeking joint US-Israel strategy on Iran if nuclear talks fail — report

PM said to urge coordination during meeting with CIA chief; officials believe William Burns also skeptical Tehran will return to 2015 deal

CIA chief William Burns, left, meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, August 11, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershon/GPO)
CIA chief William Burns, left, meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, August 11, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershon/GPO)

During his meeting this week with CIA chief William Burns, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told the US spymaster that Jerusalem and Washington should form a joint strategy for a scenario in which Iran refuses to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal, according to an Axios report Thursday.

The report said Israeli officials received the impression that like Israel, Burns is also skeptical on Tehran returning to compliance with the deal under the new hardline government.

“It was important for the prime minister to make it clear that when we say we think it is a mistake to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, it is not an automatic continuation of the Netanyahu government’s policy and that we have a different approach,” the report cited a senior Israeli official as saying.

Burns, a career diplomat, played a key role in the US rapprochement with Iran that led to the 2015 deal between Iran and major powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

US President Joe Biden has sought to rejoin the pact after former president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018. Israel opposes the deal and government officials have held successive rounds of talks with US counterparts on the nuclear negotiations.

A report in The New York Times earlier this month said US officials are increasingly pessimistic on the prospects of returning to the accord under the new leadership in Tehran.

CIA Director William Burns speaks during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 15, 2021. (Al Drago/Pool via AP)

Channel 12 news reported on Tuesday that during a meeting with Mossad chief David Barnea, Burns was presented with information intended to show Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi as mentally disturbed, untrustworthy and incapable of negotiating a new nuclear deal or sticking to his commitments.

According to the network, Barnea gave Burns a dossier on Raisi that portrayed him as exceptionally extreme, cruel, corrupt and unstable. “The Mossad described him as someone with mental disturbances,” the channel claimed in the unsourced report.

Raisi, a hardline former judiciary head who was Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s choice for the role, has been accused of ordering the execution of thousands of prisoners toward the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.

He took office last week, taking over from Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who agreed to the landmark deal in 2015 that curbed Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi speaks at his swearing-in ceremony at the Iranian parliament in the capital Tehran, on August 5, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

European Union-sponsored talks in Vienna are aimed at reviving the JCPOA but the last round took place on June 20, with no date set for when they would resume and Western officials estimating that with Raisi in power, the chances of clinching a deal have dwindled significantly.

Bloomberg news reported Monday that with chances of a return to the 2015 deal fading, the US is considering the possibility of easing sanctions on Iran in return for an agreement that the Islamic Republic freeze any progress on its nuclear project,

If a widescale deal cannot be reached, the US is weighing a number of possible interim steps, including sanctions relief, officials familiar with the negotiations were quoted by the news agency as saying.

The move would be different from a full return to the JCPOA, as it would only include limited sanctions relief in exchange for Iran freezing its most provocative nuclear proliferation work, the report said, citing the officials.

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