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Biden said to tell Mossad chief that US not close to return to Iran nuke deal

Israeli official disputes US assertion that Biden ‘dropped by’ Yossi Cohen-Jake Sullivan meeting, says talks were planned and lasted for an hour

US President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on April 28, 2021. (Melina Mara / POOL / AFP)
US President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on April 28, 2021. (Melina Mara / POOL / AFP)

President Joe Biden reportedly told Mossad chief Yossi Cohen that the US is not close to returning to the nuclear deal with Iran, according to a news report Sunday.

The report, published in Hebrew on the Walla site and in English on Axios, cited an unnamed senior Israeli official briefed on the Friday talks.

According to the report, Cohen told Biden that it would be a mistake for the US to return to the deal without improving it. Biden reportedly responded that the US had a long way to go before it agrees to a return to full compliance with the 2015 agreement.

The White House refused to comment on the report.

On Friday, US officials said Biden “dropped by” a meeting at the White House between his National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Cohen.

The meeting was reported by Israel’s Channel 12 and then confirmed by a spokesperson for the US National Security Council, who said that Cohen and Sullivan were meeting to “discuss regional security issues.”

“President Biden dropped by to express condolences for the tragedy at Mount Meron,” the spokesperson said Saturday, referring to the crush in Israel that killed 45 people.

However, the Israeli official disputed the account, telling Axios the meeting with the president was pre-planned specifically to discuss Iran and lasted for an hour.

Cohen was the only Israeli representative in the meeting,

The Mossad chief and confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has in the past been accused by opponents of the premier of leaking to the press stories regarding his personal involvement in matters of national security.

Mossad chief Yossi Cohen at a Tel Aviv University cyber conference on June 24, 2019. (Flash90)

Channel 12 had reported Friday that Netanyahu briefed Cohen in advance on the main issues to discuss with the American president. The issues weren’t specified, but the report came after Cohen and other top Israeli security officials held talks with senior American officials this week over the Biden administration’s plans to rejoin the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program, which Israel opposes in its current form.

Israel seeks to convince Washington to negotiate an improved deal to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons rather than reenter the limping 2015 accord. Cohen’s visit to Washington also comes weeks after an attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, which Tehran has blamed on Israel.

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met in Washington with Cohen along with Israel’s ambassador Gilad Erdan.

Although other issues were discussed, Israel used Thursday’s meeting to “express strong concerns” about Iran, an official said.

Also attending Thursday’s meeting on the American side was Blinken’s confirmed deputy, Wendy Sherman, 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.

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)

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.

The Biden administration is considering a near wholesale rollback of some of the most stringent Trump-era sanctions imposed on Iran in a bid to get the Islamic Republic to return to compliance with the nuclear accord, according to current and former US officials and others familiar with the matter.

As indirect talks continue in Vienna, American officials have refused to discuss which sanctions are being considered for removal. But they have stressed that they are open to lifting non-nuclear sanctions, such as those tied to terrorism, missile development and human rights, in addition to those related to the nuclear program.

The rollback is expected to be forcefully opposed by Israel and Gulf states.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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