After US President Joe Biden made only brief mention of Iran’s nuclear program during his first speech to Congress, Israel’s Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan said Thursday that Jerusalem will not allow its security to be dependent on or bound by an international agreement that it is not a party to.
Erdan’s comments came hours before he was slated to attend a meeting with Mossad spy agency chief Yossi Cohen and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that was expected to touch on the efforts to breathe new life into the limping 2015 Iran deal.
He said that although the Biden administration is seeking to reenter the deal and bring Iran back to compliance, the US accepts Israel’s right to defend itself, a value that Israeli officials drove home during talks in Washington this week.
Israeli defense officials told their US counterparts that “the freedom of action of Israel to prevent Iran from becoming an existential threat is a freedom of action that will be preserved,” he said.
It is a demand that “the current government respects,” Erdan added and noted that Israel’s self-defense needs, including against other regional threats, has been backed in recent White House statements.
He said Israel is committed to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons “in any way possible and I think the international committee led by the US understands that.”
Erdan said that during the Washington talks, where Israeli and US officials discussed ongoing negotiations in Vienna among the parties to the Iran deal, it was agreed that there would be clear communication between the sides.
“We agreed on the principle of transparency and not to surprise each other and I think we are both keeping to it,” he said.
Erdan conceded that Israel and the US have different opinions on the Iran deal — Israel has staunchly opposed the pact from the start — but said that is the only difference on security matters between Jerusalem and Washington.
“Beyond that, all the cooperation activities are continuing as usual,” he said.
Commenting on Biden’s speech to Congress, which made only a brief mention of Iran’s nuclear program and none of Israel by name, Erdan said the US president has made it clear that he will prioritize dealing with the coronavirus outbreak and economic recovery ahead of international issues, which are anyway dominated by economic concerns related to China.
“I think we can all be very, very encouraged that his commitment to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons was mentioned in his speech,” Erdan said. “There is a lot to be optimistic about.”
During his speech, Biden said: “On Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs that present a serious threat to America’s security and the security of the world – we are going to be working closely with our allies to address the threats posed by both of these countries through diplomacy as well as stern deterrence.”
Israeli and American national security advisers met in Washington on Tuesday to discuss concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and US efforts to reenter the deal between Tehran and world powers.
The meeting between National Security Council chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat and his counterpart, Jake Sullivan, marked the first in-person meeting in the United States of high-level officials from the two countries since Biden entered the White House. Erdan was also at the meeting.
“The United States and Israel agreed on the significant threat posed by Iran’s aggressive behavior in the region, and US officials underscored President Biden’s unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself,” the White House said in a statement after the meeting.
Ben-Shabbat and Sullivan head the bilateral strategic group aimed at Israeli-US cooperation in the effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The group has convened virtually twice in recent months.
Ahead of their departure to Washington, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the defense officials participating in the mission to voice objection to the US return to the Iran nuclear deal, but not to hold talks on the issues.
Netanyahu emphasized in a meeting with the delegation last week that Israel is not a party to the nuclear agreement with Iran, and not committed to it.
“Israel is committed to its own security interests only and will act accordingly,” an unnamed Israeli official reportedly said.
Meanwhile, indirect talks are taking place in Vienna between Iran, the US and other major powers aimed at reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which has been on life support since Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018. Trump’s administration subsequently issued a host of sanctions against Iran as part of its “maximum pressure” strategy aimed at coaxing Tehran into a stricter agreement to curb its nuclear weapons program.
Biden has sought to reenter the US into the JCPOA, but has refused to do so until Iran returns to compliance with the agreement. Following Trump’s withdrawal, Iran engaged in a rush to enrich uranium, recently ramping up levels to an unprecedented 60 percent, in a policy that has been vehemently opposed by the international community.