Biden national security adviser to host Israeli counterpart for talks on Iran

Sullivan, Hulata to hold 1st in-person meeting of bilateral forum established to address Tehran nuclear threat, will hold follow up meeting to discuss Palestinians, Abraham Accords

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

National Security Council chairman Eyal Hulata (L) and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. (Composite/Coutesy, AP)
National Security Council chairman Eyal Hulata (L) and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. (Composite/Coutesy, AP)

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan will host his Israeli counterpart Eyal Hulata at the White House on Tuesday for talks on the Iranian nuclear program.

Sullivan and Hulata will chair a meeting of the US-Israel Strategic Consultative Group (SRG), an inter-agency bilateral forum established in March for discussing Iran and other regional security issues, a senior US official told reporters Monday in a briefing. The SRG includes representatives from the military, diplomatic and intelligence communities in both Israel and the US.

The forum has met several times in recent months, but the Tuesday morning session will be the first time it will be held in person. The senior US official said that the SRG meeting will build off the White House sit-down between US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in late August.

Then, Biden assured Bennett that he would never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon and that while his administration was still pursuing diplomatic efforts — namely a reentry into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — it would be prepared to pursue other avenues if they failed.

“We still believe very strongly that the diplomatic path remains the best path for resolving this issue,” the US official told reporters on Monday. “Since we came in we have not lifted any sanctions, we are not going to pay upfront, and we’ve made that very clear.”

Israel opposes the revival of the JCPOA, which former president Barack Obama signed in 2015, and his successor Donald Trump vacated in 2018. However, Bennett has told Biden that he would not publicly campaign against the JCPOA the way his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu did.

US President Joe Biden, right, meets with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, August 27, 2021. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Tuesday’s session will also be the third time Sullivan has hosted Hulata for talks in Washington after doing so twice in August.

“We’ve been engaged in regular contact with the Bennett administration on the many threats posed by Iran, including its nuclear program, its destabilizing regional activities, its ballistic missile program, support for terrorism, Iranian-backed UAV network,” the senior official said.

The official added that there is an agreement between the sides “of the extent to which Iran’s nuclear program has dramatically broken out of the box since the previous administration left the Iran nuclear deal.”

“We’re very closely aligned on how we see the bigger picture. We don’t see eye-to-eye on every single issue, but there’s a great deal of alignment both on how we see the challenges presented by Iran and how to ensure that we are effectively utilizing the full range of tools at our disposal,” he said.

In addition to the SRG meeting, Sullivan and Hulata will hold a separate session to discuss other issues relating to the US-Israel bilateral relationship. They will include US security assistance to Israel along with the strengthening and expansion of the Abraham Accords.

Asked if the possibility of Saudi Arabia normalizing with Israel was discussed during Sullivan’s meetings in Riyadh last week, the US official said those discussions mainly focused on the civil war in Yemen. The official acknowledged that Israel-Saudi normalization “would be a game-changer” but added, “I don’t want to get ahead of any process. These are decisions for the Saudis, and I’ll leave it there.”

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, seated second right, meets with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and their delegations at the Foreign Ministry, in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

The Biden administration has repeatedly emphasized its commitment to the Abraham Accords, an initiative launched by Trump, but has yet to make headway on the issue as its foreign policy priorities are largely focused elsewhere.

“We’ll also raise the current situation with the Palestinians, including the importance of ensuring calm in Gaza, which was a key topic in [Sullivan’s] meetings in Cairo a week ago, and more broadly the importance of efforts to dampen potential flash-points in the West Bank and Gaza and take steps to improve the lives of Palestinians,” the senior official said.

Sullivan met with Egyptian security officials last week during a regional tour and discussed Cairo’s efforts to broker a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Gaza-ruling Hamas.

Asked whether the US planned to pressure Israel on its plans to further settlement growth in the West Bank, the senior official did not comment directly on the matter, instead repeating a frequently used talking point about how the Biden administration opposes unilateral steps by Israelis and Palestinians and wants to see equal levels of freedom and prosperity for both.

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