The United States is “determined” to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured Sunday in Jerusalem. He seeks to ease tensions with Israel and Arab countries over a possible deal with Tehran.
Mr. Blinken began a tour of the Middle East and the Maghreb on Saturday evening, culminating in a meeting in the Israeli desert of the Negev (south), with his counterparts from Arab countries having normalized their relations with Israel. The question of returning to an agreement framing Iran’s civilian nuclear program will be on the agenda of the Negev ministerial meeting.
The United States and Iran are in the final stages of indirect talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 pact supposed to prevent Tehran from acquiring the atomic bomb, in exchange for the lifting of sanctions which are suffocating the Iranian economy.
‘When it comes to the most important things, we are all in the same boat: we are each committed, determined, to ensure that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon,’ Mr Blinken said during a press briefing in Jerusalem with his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid.
‘The United States believes that returning to full implementation (of the 2015 agreement) is the best way to put Iran’s nuclear program back in the box’, before the unilateral American withdrawal in 2018, he said. he adds.
‘They won’t make it’
The 2015 agreement fell apart after the US withdrawal followed by the reinstatement of sanctions against Iran. Tehran, in retaliation, has gradually freed itself from the limits imposed on its nuclear program.
But Israel takes a dim view of a possible agreement between the major powers and Iran, its number one enemy, claiming to fear that Tehran will take advantage of the agreement to acquire nuclear weapons on the sly. “We disagree on the nuclear program and its consequences but are open to honest dialogue,” Lapid said.
‘Israel and the United States will work together to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Israel will do whatever needs to be done to stop the Iranian nuclear program (…) For us, the Iranian threat is not theoretical. The Iranians want to destroy Israel. They will not succeed. We won’t let them,’ he said.
“Agreement or not, we will continue to work together, and with our other partners, to counter Iran’s actions aimed at destabilizing the region,” said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett after his meeting with Mr. Blinken. .
Mr. Blinken is due to meet in the early evening with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. He will then go to Sde Boker to meet with Mr. Lapid their counterparts from the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain and Egypt.
Palestinian question relegated
“Normalization with Israel is the new normal,” Blinken said. This normalization broke with decades of Arab consensus conditioning the establishment of relations with Israel with the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, in power in Gaza and a sworn enemy of Israel, warned that the meeting in the Negev served to ‘legitimize the crimes’ of Israel and to ‘integrate’ the Jewish state into the region. Under Israeli blockade for more than 15 years, the poor and densely populated Palestinian enclave of Gaza has been the scene of several wars between Israel and Hamas.
Alongside Mr. Blinken, Mr. Bennett announced on Sunday an increase from 12,000 to 20,000 in the number of work permits in Israel for Palestinians in Gaza.
For Yoel Guzansky, senior analyst at the INSS research center in Tel Aviv, the Negev meeting ‘shows two things at once: that the Palestinian question is at the bottom of the agenda and that there are more urgent like Iran’. ‘It is also a sign’ that there are ‘actors in the region who are united’ in the face of the ‘dangers’ of Tehran.
“The most important message that will be conveyed is that there are several countries in the Middle East who are not satisfied with the performance of the United States with regard to Iran (…)”, underlined Israeli analyst Uzi Rabi. The discussions will be ‘strong and not only Americans against Israelis, Arab leaders too’.é Israeli analyst Uzi Rabi. The discussions will be ‘strong and not only Americans against Israelis, Arab officials as well’.
After Israel, Mr. Blinken is to travel to Morocco and Algeria.