US national security adviser set to arrive in Israel for talks on Iran

Sullivan to meet with Bennett as well as Israeli counterpart Eyal Hulata to discuss strategic issues, will also meet Palestinian leader Abbas

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington,  Oct. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Oct. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was set to arrive in Israel Tuesday at the head of a US delegation for meetings with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other top officials. The sides were expected to discuss Iran and other strategic issues.

Sullivan will also participate in the fourth meeting of the Strategic Consultative Group (SCG) alongside Israeli counterpart Eyal Hulata. The SCG is a bilateral  group aimed at collaborating in the effort to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Joining Sullivan in Israel are US envoy to the Middle East Brett McGurk and the State Department’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert.

After his meetings in Israel, Sullivan will travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Lempert will join Sullivan in some of his meetings and also hold her own sit-down with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. She will subsequently travel to Jordan where she will meet with senior government officials, including Water and Irrigation Minister Mohammed Al-Najjar and Planning and International Cooperation Minister Nasser Shraideh, the State Department said, apparently to discuss the recent deal between Jordan and Israel on energy and water.

The meetings come as European diplomats warn that nuclear negotiations in Vienna to secure a return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran are “rapidly reaching the end of the road.”

In a blow to European mediators, Iran requested a new pause in the talks, which aim to bring the United States back into the agreement and roll back Iran’s nuclear activities. The Islamic Republic publicly stepped up its nuclear projects after the US withdrawal from the deal in 2018.

The talks had resumed in late November after a five-month break following the election of a new hardline government in Iran.

Underlying Western concerns are fears that Iran will soon make enough nuclear progress to render the accord — under which it was promised economic relief in return for drastic curbs on its nuclear work — obsolete.

Brett McGurk, then-US envoy for the global coalition against Islamic State, at a news conference at the US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, June 7, 2017. (Hadi Mizban/AP)

Earlier this month, Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited Washington for discussions on Iran. He later told reporters he’d notified US officials that he had instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for a strike against Iran.

A senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated that Gantz had presented a timeline for when such an attack might take place during his meetings with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, but the source did not specify further.

Gantz told reporters that the US and European countries “are losing patience” and are realizing that Iran is trying to drag out the negotiations, despite “playing a bad hand.”

Gantz said he has urged the US to step up the pressure against Iran.

“There is room for international pressure — political, economic and also military — in order to convince Iran to stop its fantasies about a nuclear program,” he said.

Gantz said the administration officials he met with were attentive to Israel’s concerns, and that he emphasized that Iran is first and foremost a global problem, before it is an Israeli one.

He said he agreed during meetings with Austin and Blinken that the US and Israel would further develop their cooperation against Tehran.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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