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Lapid, Blinken discuss ‘challenges posed by Iran’ in overnight phone call

FM says he and US secretary of state addressed ‘importance of putting pressure on Iran’; State Department says they also spoke about ‘Russian aggression against Ukraine’

(L) Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speeks during a press conference in Jerusalem on November 6, 2021. (R) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, January 5, 2022. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL; Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP)
(L) Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speeks during a press conference in Jerusalem on November 6, 2021. (R) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, January 5, 2022. (Ohad Zwigenberg/POOL; Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Israeli counterpart, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, spoke overnight, the US State Department announced Thursday morning. The two discussed a range of regional and global issues including the “challenges posed by Iran,” a statement from State Department spokesperson Ned Price read.

While it wasn’t clear what Israel’s relation to the issue is, the two men also discussed “the risks of further Russian aggression against Ukraine,” the readout said.

“Blinken reiterated the Administration’s ironclad commitment to Israel’s security,” the statement concluded.

Lapid in a tweet said he had spoken with Blinken about regional and global challenges and “the importance of putting pressure on Iran to stop its race to a nuclear weapon.” He made no specific mention of the Russian-Ukraine conflict.

The phone call came as Price reported some progress at last week’s talks between world powers and Iran in Vienna, aimed at reestablishing the 2015 deal that gave Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Former US president Donald Trump withdrew the US from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran, which in turn ramped up its nuclear work in violation of the pact. The Biden administration is looking to rejoin the deal but has conditioned doing so on Iran returning to compliance.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price pauses while speaking during a media briefing at the State Department in Washington, on July 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

“There was some modest progress in the talks last week. We hope to build on that this week,” Price said during a phone briefing with reporters on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

“Sanctions relief and the steps that the United States would take… when it comes to sanctions together with the nuclear steps that Iran would need to take if we were to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA — that’s really at the heart of the negotiations that are ongoing in Vienna right now,” he added.

Neither Lapid nor Blinken mentioned the exact means of pressuring Iran in their statements, but according to a Wednesday report, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told Israeli officials that “snapback” UN Security Council sanctions were an effective way to deter the Islamic Republic from enriching weapons-grade uranium.

Sullivan made the comments to the Israeli officials during a visit to Jerusalem in December, the Axios news site reported.

Israeli officials told the news site that only the UK — one of the signatories to the 2015 accord — has shown openness to the snapback sanctions idea.

Iran has abandoned all its commitments under the agreement, and has ramped up uranium enrichment from under four percent purity to 60% — a short, technical step from weapons-grade levels. International inspectors face challenges in monitoring Tehran’s advances.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Jerusalem on December 22, 2021. (David Azagury/US Embassy Jerusalem)

Israel vociferously opposed talks aimed at restoring the pact, but in recent weeks, officials have signaled a shift toward accepting a deal in some form.

Last month, Lapid said Israel is not opposed in principle to any deal that may be reached between world powers and Iran.

“We have no problem with a deal. A good deal is a good thing,” he told The New York Times. “Second best would be no deal but tightening the sanctions and making sure Iran cannot go forward. And the third and worst is a bad deal.”

Lapid did not detail what would constitute a good or bad deal, beyond removing so-called sunset provisions from the 2015 deal that allow safeguards to expire in 2025, and having the pact block Iran from ever building a nuclear weapon.

Negotiations to restore the 2015 accord between Tehran and world powers (United States, France, Britain, Russia, China, and Germany) began last year but stopped in June as Iran elected ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi.

The talks resumed in late November and the latest round got underway on Monday after a three-day break for the end of year holidays.

AFP contributed to this report.

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