Sullivan meets with Israeli counterpart amid Kerry kerfuffle

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan met in person Tuesday with his Israeli counterpart amid tensions between the United States and Israel over how to deal with Iran, and the two sides agreed to cooperate more closely on countering threats posed by Iranian drones and Tehran’s missile program.

The discussion also came as Republican lawmakers have been blasting President Joe Biden’s international climate envoy, John Kerry, over allegations that he inappropriately told a senior Iranian official that Israel had struck against Iranian interests in Syria at least 200 times. Kerry denies the conversation happened.

Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat was among the Israeli officials visiting Washington. Israeli spy chief Yossi Cohen was also reported to be planning to visit the U.S. capital this week. The pair were expected to express their government’s concerns about U.S. efforts to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Israel opposed. U.S. officials are set to be in Vienna this week for indirect talks with Iran about the agreement.

A U.S. National Security Council spokesperson confirmed the meeting between Sullivan and Ben-Shabbat.

“The United States updated Israel on the talks in Vienna and emphasized strong U.S. interest in consulting closely with Israel on the nuclear issue going forward,” a White House readout of the meeting said. “The United States and Israel agreed to establish an inter-agency working group to focus particular attention on the growing threat of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Precision Guided Missiles produced by Iran and provided to its proxies in the Middle East Region.”

The readout made no mention of the situation with Kerry.

The claim about Kerry was made by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in a leaked audiotape obtained by Iran International, a Persian news channel, which shared it with The New York Times.

In it, Zarif describes feeling cut out and powerless in a government where the shots are often called by the military leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, not to mention the country’s unelected supreme leader, the cleric Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

A written account of the tape on Iran International’s website indicates that Zarif came across as having been taken aback that he’d learned the information from Kerry instead of the IRGC itself. It wasn’t immediately clear that Kerry said anything about the Israeli strikes beyond the 200 figure — if Zarif’s claim is to be believed.

Kerry dealt with Zarif when he was secretary of State during the Obama administration, including in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, and also met with Zarif a few times after leaving that office.

It was not clear when the conversation Zarif spoke of would have taken place, if it did at all, or if what Kerry allegedly spoke of would have been classified information. In recent years, there have been news accounts of Israeli strikes against Iran in Syria that could have been the basis for the 200 figure.

Some Republicans lawmakers called for an investigation into Kerry for potentially inappropriately disclosing information in what they alleged was a betrayal of Israel, while some said he should quit the current administration. White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment on the matter during Monday’s press briefing.

In a tweet Monday, Kerry wrote: “I can tell you that this story and these allegations are unequivocally false. This never happened — either when I was Secretary of State or since.”

The United States and Iran, as well as several other countries, struck the Iran nuclear agreement in 2015, during the presidency of Barack Obama. The deal lifted nuclear-related U.S. and international sanctions on Iran in exchange for severe restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel opposed the agreement, saying it wasn’t tough enough and that it would eventually leave Iran more economically strengthened and free to restart its nuclear efforts. Israel views Iran’s Islamist government as an existential threat.

In May 2018, then-President Donald Trump quit the deal, saying it was too narrow and had too many provisions that expired. He reimposed nuclear-related U.S. sanctions on Iran, while also adding on other sanctions, ostensibly for other Iranian misbehavior.

In response, Iran has taken several steps to resume its nuclear program, which it has always maintained was for peaceful purposes. But Tehran has never formally quit the deal.

Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, has promised to rejoin the nuclear deal if Iran gets back into compliance.

His representatives have been engaged in indirect discussions with Iranian officials in Vienna about what steps both sides need to take to rejoin the original agreement. Biden has also called on Iran to agree to future discussions about a longer-lasting deal that could cover areas of disagreement beyond just nuclear ones.

Israel has warned the United States that it does not feel bound by its moves toward Iran, and that the U.S. should abandon the idea of returning to the original agreement. Israeli officials argue that if the original deal is restored, Iran will have no incentive to talk about a bigger, longer-lasting deal.

Israel is suspected of being behind an explosion that damaged an Iranian nuclear facility in recent weeks. But neither the U.S. nor Iran called off the ongoing indirect talks as a result. Iranian officials have in response to the attack said they would enrich some uranium to 60 percent levels of purity, putting them further out of line with the 2015 deal.

U.S. officials have shared with Iran examples of sanctions they are willing to lift in exchange for Tehran’s return to compliance with the agreement.

But they’ve also told Iran that they will not lift every sanction imposed during the Trump years because some were put in place for legitimate reasons that did not have to do with Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, those sanctions targeted Iran for other activities, such as its sponsorship of terrorism.

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U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan met in person Tuesday with his Israeli counterpart amid tensions between the United States and Israel over how to deal with Iran, and the two sides agreed to cooperate more closely on countering threats posed by Iranian drones and Tehran’s missile program.

The discussion also came as Republican lawmakers have been blasting President Joe Biden’s international climate envoy, John Kerry, over allegations that he inappropriately told a senior Iranian official that Israel had struck against Iranian interests in Syria at least 200 times. Kerry denies the conversation happened.

Israeli national security adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat was among the Israeli officials visiting Washington. Israeli spy chief Yossi Cohen was also reported to be planning to visit the U.S. capital this week. The pair were expected to express their government’s concerns about U.S. efforts to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Israel opposed. U.S. officials are set to be in Vienna this week for indirect talks with Iran about the agreement.

A U.S. National Security Council spokesperson confirmed the meeting between Sullivan and Ben-Shabbat.

“The United States updated Israel on the talks in Vienna and emphasized strong U.S. interest in consulting closely with Israel on the nuclear issue going forward,” a White House readout of the meeting said. “The United States and Israel agreed to establish an inter-agency working group to focus particular attention on the growing threat of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Precision Guided Missiles produced by Iran and provided to its proxies in the Middle East Region.”

The readout made no mention of the situation with Kerry.

The claim about Kerry was made by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in a leaked audiotape obtained by Iran International, a Persian news channel, which shared it with The New York Times.

In it, Zarif describes feeling cut out and powerless in a government where the shots are often called by the military leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, not to mention the country’s unelected supreme leader, the cleric Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

A written account of the tape on Iran International’s website indicates that Zarif came across as having been taken aback that he’d learned the information from Kerry instead of the IRGC itself. It wasn’t immediately clear that Kerry said anything about the Israeli strikes beyond the 200 figure — if Zarif’s claim is to be believed.

Kerry dealt with Zarif when he was secretary of State during the Obama administration, including in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal, and also met with Zarif a few times after leaving that office.

It was not clear when the conversation Zarif spoke of would have taken place, if it did at all, or if what Kerry allegedly spoke of would have been classified information. In recent years, there have been news accounts of Israeli strikes against Iran in Syria that could have been the basis for the 200 figure.

Some Republicans lawmakers called for an investigation into Kerry for potentially inappropriately disclosing information in what they alleged was a betrayal of Israel, while some said he should quit the current administration. White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment on the matter during Monday’s press briefing.

In a tweet Monday, Kerry wrote: “I can tell you that this story and these allegations are unequivocally false. This never happened — either when I was Secretary of State or since.”

The United States and Iran, as well as several other countries, struck the Iran nuclear agreement in 2015, during the presidency of Barack Obama. The deal lifted nuclear-related U.S. and international sanctions on Iran in exchange for severe restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel opposed the agreement, saying it wasn’t tough enough and that it would eventually leave Iran more economically strengthened and free to restart its nuclear efforts. Israel views Iran’s Islamist government as an existential threat.

In May 2018, then-President Donald Trump quit the deal, saying it was too narrow and had too many provisions that expired. He reimposed nuclear-related U.S. sanctions on Iran, while also adding on other sanctions, ostensibly for other Iranian misbehavior.

In response, Iran has taken several steps to resume its nuclear program, which it has always maintained was for peaceful purposes. But Tehran has never formally quit the deal.

Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, has promised to rejoin the nuclear deal if Iran gets back into compliance.

His representatives have been engaged in indirect discussions with Iranian officials in Vienna about what steps both sides need to take to rejoin the original agreement. Biden has also called on Iran to agree to future discussions about a longer-lasting deal that could cover areas of disagreement beyond just nuclear ones.

Israel has warned the United States that it does not feel bound by its moves toward Iran, and that the U.S. should abandon the idea of returning to the original agreement. Israeli officials argue that if the original deal is restored, Iran will have no incentive to talk about a bigger, longer-lasting deal.

Israel is suspected of being behind an explosion that damaged an Iranian nuclear facility in recent weeks. But neither the U.S. nor Iran called off the ongoing indirect talks as a result. Iranian officials have in response to the attack said they would enrich some uranium to 60 percent levels of purity, putting them further out of line with the 2015 deal.

U.S. officials have shared with Iran examples of sanctions they are willing to lift in exchange for Tehran’s return to compliance with the agreement.

But they’ve also told Iran that they will not lift every sanction imposed during the Trump years because some were put in place for legitimate reasons that did not have to do with Iran’s nuclear program. Instead, those sanctions targeted Iran for other activities, such as its sponsorship of terrorism.

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