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Report: PM to tap national security adviser to lead nuclear deal talks with US

Meir Ben-Shabbat expected to hold discussions with Biden administration, world powers and regional partners, Walla reports, adding Netanyahu to convene strategy meeting soon

Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat during a ceremony before boarding an El Al plane to Bahrain to sign a series of bilateral agreements between Jerusalem and Manama, at Ben Gurion Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel October18, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL via FLASH90)
Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat during a ceremony before boarding an El Al plane to Bahrain to sign a series of bilateral agreements between Jerusalem and Manama, at Ben Gurion Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel October18, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL via FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to appoint National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat to lead talks with Washington regarding the Iranian nuclear deal, according to a report Friday by Walla news.

Senior officials told Walla’s Barak Ravid that Ben-Shabbat will be appointed to conduct discussions with world powers and other regional partners on the future of the moribund accord.

The report said Ben-Shabbat spoke Thursday with his American counterpart Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor to US President Joe Biden, and discussed Iran, among other subjects.

This was the second time the two security advisors spoke, the report said.

US President-elect Joe Biden’s national security adviser nominee Jake Sullivan speaks at The Queen theater, November 24, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

It said Ben-Shabbat is expected to convene a team in the coming days to determine Israel’s strategy for talks with the Biden administration regarding the planned US return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Prime Minister Netanyahu will hold a meeting on the same subject in the coming weeks with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and other security officials, the report said.

Walla said Mossad chief Yossi Cohen had sought to take point on the issue, but Netanyahu decided on the NSC chief instead.

Biden has said he intends to re-enter the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, setting him and Netanyahu on a potential collision course. Netanyahu strongly opposed the deal when it was made, and hailed former president Donald Trump’s decision to quit it in 2018.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat hold a video conference with European leaders in order to discuss challenges and cooperation between the countries in dealing with the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, on March 9, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Biden has said he wants to address the issue of Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for terror groups, issues which Israel has said must be part of any deal. But Iran has said these are non-starters.

He has also said that his administration would not agree to lift sanctions on Iran before it halts its increased uranium enrichment, saying that the Islamic Republic will have to first resume full compliance with the nuclear deal. Iran has demanded Washington first return to the deal and remove sanctions.

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, left, and Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif, center, take part in a Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) ministerial meeting on the Iran nuclear deal on July 6, 2018 in Vienna, Austria. (AFP/APA/Hans Punz)

The prospect of the US reengaging with Tehran has drawn warnings and alarm from Netanyahu and his allies.

Netanyahu, who publicly lobbied against the 2015 deal, has warned Biden that it would be a “mistake” and “folly” for the US to rejoin the JCPOA.

Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi said in January that the new US administration must not “appease” Iran, and warned Tehran the Jewish state will not tolerate its military presence in Syria or its development of nuclear weapons.

In one of the most forceful statements recently made by an Israeli official, Hanegbi, considered an ally of Netanyahu, threatened that Israel could attack Iran’s nuclear program if the United States rejoined the nuclear deal.

Though it was postponed indefinitely last week, Netanyahu had planned to visit Gulf states that have recently normalized ties with Israel, and may also have hoped to use the visit to enlist Arab leaders in a joint campaign against a US return to the Iran nuclear deal.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are believed to oppose a US return to the deal under the previous conditions.

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