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'It was a diplomatic tsunami in a good sense'

In Glasgow, world leaders seek new way forward on Iran — Israeli official

Government source says diplomatic ‘speed dates’ between Bennett, heads of state were marked success, avoided Palestinian issue; PM to visit India early next year

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chat as they attend an evening reception to mark the opening day of the COP26 UN Climate Summit, in Glasgow, Scotland,  on Monday, November 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, Pool)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson chat as they attend an evening reception to mark the opening day of the COP26 UN Climate Summit, in Glasgow, Scotland, on Monday, November 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali, Pool)

GLASGOW, Scotland — Iran’s nuclear program came up in almost every meeting Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held with world leaders at the COP26 climate conference this week, a government source said during a briefing to Israeli journalists Tuesday evening.

Bennett held long conversations on the topic with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday, according to the official.

Conversations around Iran dealt with two major issues — what world powers can do to change Iranian behavior, and what Israel is doing independently.

“We are in a period where the Iranians still aren’t coming in” for nuclear talks, the source said.  “There is a feeling in the world that something has to happen.”

World leaders are searching for a combination of carrots and sticks to urge Iran back to nuclear talks and compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord, known officially as the JCPOA, according to the official, who noted that Bennett favors sticks.

“They want to hear what we think, and how we see the intelligence reports,” said the official. “There is attention being paid to the Israeli position.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) meets French President Emmanuel Macron at the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 1, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The Palestinian issue did not come up in Bennett’s meetings, the official said: “It is not because it’s not important, it is important. But Israel’s bilateral relations are not hostage to the Palestinians.”

Diplomatic speed dating

The series of meetings over the past two days was a “diplomatic tsunami in a good sense, rains of blessing,” the source said.

“This is a good time for Israeli diplomacy, and we must leverage it,” the official said. The source likened Bennett’s meetings with world leaders to speed dating, saying, “We tried to do in a half-hour what is usually done in a day or two.”

In his Monday meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bennett officially accepted his pending invitation to visit India. The visit will likely take place in January or February of next year.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) meets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 1, 2021. (Courtesy)

The two leaders had a “warm, open conversation about the future of relations,” the source said, and expressed a mutual desire to cooperate on food technology, water, and solar energy. They also discussed outstanding visa issues between the two countries.

During his Tuesday meeting with Bahrain’s Salman Al Khalifa, Bennett invited the crown prince to visit Israel. Khalifa said he would be happy to come soon, according to the official.

The source called the meeting on Tuesday with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson the “most fun, moving, and warm meeting.”

The two discussed a new trade agreement between the countries that is expected in the coming year.

World leaders consistently congratulated Bennett on the success of Israel’s COVID-19 booster program, and its economic growth over the past year. Leaders repeatedly came over to Bennett in the VIP section of the summit, the source said, asking for his insights on boosters and lockdowns.

A wake-up call

The other focus of the meetings in Glasgow was climate change. Preparation for the trip began two weeks ago, when Israel’s government decided to get in line with the rest of the world on the issue, the official said.

Oxfam ‘Big Head’ caricatures of world leaders Joe Biden, Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel, protest on the fringes of the COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)

The source said that the fight against COVID-19 is the model for how Israel will approach climate change, especially in helping the world learn from its successes.

Israel had “an open-source code it shared with the rest of the world,” the official said. “It gives Israel significant weight in the world.”

The official stressed that this is the beginning of Israel’s long journey in climate legislation and policies, which are aimed at achieving net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. The government wanted to “shake up the system to signal that this is a top priority… We are starting the journey with an ambitious plan.”

“Now the works begins,” the official said.

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