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'We hope that these negotiations fail'

Erdan: US effectively agrees with Israel that Iran deal doesn’t block path to bomb

Israel’s envoy to UN, also an ex-ambassador to US, says Biden administration’s insistence on new ‘longer and stronger’ deal means it recognizes original one was insufficient

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan addresses the Israeli American Council's national summit on December 9, 2021. (Noam Galai)
Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan addresses the Israeli American Council's national summit on December 9, 2021. (Noam Galai)

HOLLYWOOD BEACH, Florida — Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan claimed Thursday that the Biden administration effectively agrees with Israel that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal does not block Tehran’s path to a nuclear weapon.

“I’m encouraged that today even the Biden administration — many of them are the same people who designed this agreement — they agree with us [and] say we need a longer, stronger and broader deal,” said Erdan, who until last month also served as ambassador to the US.

“The meaning is that the old deal, [which] was signed during [former president Barack] Obama’s term is not sufficient [in] block[ing] Iran’s pathway toward becoming a nuclear power,” he said during an on-stage English interview at the Israeli American Council’s national summit in Florida.

While US President Joe Biden did indeed campaign on reaching a “longer and stronger” nuclear deal with Iran after first returning to the 2015 accord known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, no one in his administration has ever publicly said that the original agreement fails to block Iran’s path to a bomb.

In fact, they insist that the original agreement did just that, and that leaving the JCPOA, as Israel had lobbied the Trump administration to do in 2018, is what led to Tehran advancing closer to a nuclear weapon than it ever had in the past.

Erdan argued Thursday that Iran will have no interest in negotiating a subsequent, more stringent agreement that reins in its ballistic missile program and proxy activity in the region, because once the US returns to the original deal, sanctions will be lifted, and the US will lose all of its leverage against Tehran.

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

Indeed, talk from Biden officials of a subsequent deal has dissipated in recent months, as the US is finding it harder to convince a new, more hardline Iranian government to return to the original agreement.

Vowing to never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, the White House asserts that it is still committed to the diplomatic route through the ongoing talks between world powers in Vienna aimed at a joint US-Iran return to compliance with the JCPOA. However, Biden maintains that every option will be on the table if those talks fail.

“We hope that these negotiations fail,” Erdan said Thursday, adding that Iran will only abandon its nuclear program if it faces a combination of crippling sanctions and a “credible military threat that would force them to decide between their own survival as a regime and their nuclear ambitions.”

The comments were a stark contrast to ones made last week by the former head of the Iran branch of the Israeli Military Intelligence Directorate’s Research Division.

Blasting Israel’s “failed” policy toward Iran, Danny Citrinowicz told The Times of Israel, “It was very naive to think that [Israel] could force the [Iranian] regime to choose between its survival and its nuclear program, because backing down from its nuclear ambitions means losing its independence.”

But Erdan argued the opposite, saying Iran would “rush to the negotiating table if they would be presented with a clear, credible military threat.”

Erdan said that if Israel can attack Iranian forces in Syria “more than 1,000 times,” then the international community, including the US, should be capable of opposing Iran.

Against the backdrop of American fatigue with drawn-out military conflicts in the Middle East, the US, to Israel’s dismay, has been careful not to clearly verbalize that the options it’s willing to consider if the Vienna talks fail include a military strike.

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