President Joe Biden on Friday during a meeting with Yossi Cohen, the director of Israel’s foreign intelligence service, said the U.S. still has a "long way to go" in talks with Iran before it agrees to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, an Israeli official told Axios.
Cohen during the meeting said it would be a mistake for the U.S. to return to the deal without improving it. Biden responded that the U.S. will “continue to seek Israel’s input in the future.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefed Cohen and the others in his delegation before they left for Washington, instructing them “to express opposition to the agreement with Iran and not to discuss it, because it constitutes a return to the previous deal, which was dangerous to Israel and the region,” according to a news briefing by Netanyahu’s office, quoted in the daily Haaretz. “If serious talks are held in the future on an improved agreement, Israel will express its opinion.”
A spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council said Cohen was in D.C. to meet with White House advisor Jake Sullivan and other national security officials, during which Biden stopped in to express his condolences for the tragedy at Mount Meron the day before where at least 45 people were killed and 150 hospitalized in a stampede at a large event for the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer in northern Israel.
A senior Israeli official refuted that account, saying Cohen had a meeting scheduled with Biden to discuss Iran.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to violate some of the pact's nuclear restrictions. Biden wants to revive the accord, but Washington and Tehran have been at odds over who should take the first step.
The Wall Street Journal reported on April 22 that the administration was open to easing sanctions against critical elements of Iran’s economy ain exchange for Iran ending some of its nuclear projects as part of a plan to jump-start the talks."
High-ranking diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia and Britain made progress at talks Saturday focused on bringing the United States back into their landmark nuclear deal with Iran, but said they need more work and time to bring about a future agreement.
After the meeting, Russia's top representative, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted that members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, "noted today the indisputable progress made at the Vienna talks on restoration of the nuclear deal."
"The Joint Commission will reconvene at the end of the next week," Ulyanov wrote. "In the meantime, experts will continue to draft elements of future agreement."
"It's too early to be excited, but we have reasons for cautious and growing optimism," he added. "There is no deadline, but participants aim at successful completion of the talks in approximately 3 weeks."
A U.S. delegation is also in Vienna, taking part in indirect talks with Iran, with diplomats from the other world powers acting as go-betweens.
The nuclear deal promised Iran economic incentives in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. The reimposition of U.S. sanctions has left the Islamic Republic's economy reeling. Tehran has responded by steadily increasing its violations of the deal, such as increasing the purity of uranium it enriches and its stockpiles, in a thus-far unsuccessful effort to pressure the other countries to provide relief from the sanctions.
The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something it insists it doesn't want to do. Iran now has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, but nowhere near the amount it had before the nuclear deal was signed.
Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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