Lapid, Biden discuss Iran deal as EU says agreement could be reached in ‘days’

PM’s office says conversation addressed ‘shared commitment’ to preventing a nuclear Iran; White House spokesman says sides ‘closer now’ to finalizing a deal

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks via phone to US President Joe Biden on August 31, 2022. (Courtesy)
Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks via phone to US President Joe Biden on August 31, 2022. (Courtesy)

Prime Minister Yair Lapid spoke on Wednesday to US President Joe Biden, amid increasing concern in Israel regarding the likelihood of world powers reaching a new nuclear deal with Iran.

Lapid and Biden’s conversation came just as European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that he was hopeful a new agreement with Iran could be signed “in the coming days” following positive developments.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby meanwhile told reporters that the US believes “we’re closer now than we had been in certain recent weeks and months” to finalizing a deal with Iran, and that the US is “still hopeful” for a positive outcome to the talks.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Lapid and Biden spoke “at length” about the ongoing negotiations to reach a deal with Iran, “and their shared commitment to stop Iran’s progress toward nuclear weapons.”

The two leaders also discussed “Iran’s terrorist activities in the Middle East and beyond,” according to an Israeli readout of their conversation. Lapid thanked Biden for recent US strikes in Syria, which killed four Iranian-backed militia fighters.

According to Lapid, Biden “emphasized his deep commitment to the security of the State of Israel, and to preserving Israel’s capability to deter its enemies and to defend itself by itself against any threat.”

US President Joe Biden (L) and Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid shake hands after signing the Jerusalem Declaration before the start of a joint press conference in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2022. (Mandel NGAN / AFP)

The White House readout of the call, issued several hours after Israel’s version, said Lapid and Biden discussed “global and regional security challenges, including threats posed by Iran.” The statement cited Biden as emphasizing the US “commitment to never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

The White House also said Biden and Lapid discussed the ongoing US-brokered talks between Israel and Lebanon over a maritime border dispute — something the Israeli readout of the call did not mention.

According to Hebrew media reports, the call between the two lasted about 45 minutes. Israeli officials reportedly said Biden reassured Lapid that the US will not compromise on issues unrelated to the contents of the deal, including delisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror group and halting an investigation by the UN nuclear watchdog of Iranian sites suspected of nuclear activity.

The two leaders also reportedly agreed that Israel will maintain its freedom to act to protect itself against Iran’s malign activities. Israeli leaders have stressed in recent weeks that Israel is not a party to the deal and is not bound or limited by any agreement.

Lapid had reportedly been seeking to speak with Biden urgently over the past week as progress was reported in the Iranian negotiations, but the US president was vacationing with his family.

Israel has been stepping up its public and private efforts to shape the emerging deal, with world powers appearing closer than ever to finalizing a new agreement. US Assistant Secretary of State Barbara Leaf is slated to arrive in Israel on Thursday to meet with several Israeli officials.

Following an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Prague on Wednesday, Borrell said he is “hoping that in the coming days we are not going to lose this momentum and we can close the deal.”

The EU foreign policy chief said that it is “clear that there is a common ground, that we have an agreement that takes into account, I think, everyone’s concerns.”

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks with the media as he arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the Prague Congress Center in Prague, Czech Republic, August 31, 2022. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Borrell’s comments came just hours after Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, visiting Moscow, called for stronger US guarantees and an end to investigations into Iranian nuclear activity by the International Atomic Energy Agency — something the US opposes.

Amir-Abdollahian echoed similar comments made earlier this week by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who said there will be no deal if IAEA inspectors continue their probe.

The European Union put forward on August 8 what it called a final text to restore the landmark 2015 agreement that was trashed by former US president Donald Trump. Both Iran and the US have responded with a series of proposed changes.

A spokesman for the US State Department said earlier this week that following its response to the Iranian comments, “now it’s up to Iran to answer.”

The new proposal would see Iran get sanctions relief and be able to sell its oil again in return for severe limits on its nuclear program.

Last week Israel dispatched both Defense Minister Benny Gantz and National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata to DC to lobby against the deal, and is also soon sending Mossad chief David Barnea to intensify its efforts.

Lapid is slated to visit Germany next month, where the Iran deal is expected to be high on the agenda. Shortly after that trip, the premier is scheduled to attend the UN General Assembly in New York, where he is reportedly seeking an audience with Biden on the sidelines.

AFP contributed to this report. 

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