(AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Jake Sullivan

National security adviser’s trial balloon buys time for talks but Israel fears provisional agreement would become permanent.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

In a phone call with Israeli officials, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan raised the possibility of an “interim” nuclear agreement with Iran to give diplomats more time to negotiate a permanent agreement, Axios reported based on U.S. and Israeli sources.

According to the report, Sullivan suggested that the U.S. and its allies “could release some frozen Iranian funds or provide sanctions waivers on humanitarian goods.” Iran, in exchange, would make a to-be-determined freeze on its nuclear activity, such as not enriching uranium to 60 percent purity.

“The rationale for an interim deal is that Iran’s dramatic nuclear advances have put Tehran very close to the uranium enrichment levels needed for a nuclear weapon,” Axios wrote.

However, Israeli National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata shot down the idea, fearing that a provisional arrangement would become permanent and allow Iran to pursue its illicit nuclear weapons program as well as maintain its atomic infrastructure and uranium reserves.

Skeptical Israeli officials already fear that President Joe Biden’s administration will settle for an agreement that ends the current sanctions on Iran if the Islamic regime simply ceases its uranium enrichment — which would be even worse than the JCPOA agreement negotiated by President Barack Obama in 2015.

The sources stressed that Sullivan was just “brainstorming,” but the disclosure may provide a window into the White House mindset ahead of upcoming nuclear talks in Vienna. Indirect U.S.-Iran negotiations are scheduled to resume on November 29.

The news broke after U.S. special envoy to Iran Robert Malley visited Israel. Although he met with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Malley did not get to meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Some Hebrew media reports said the prime minister boycotted Malley, not wanting to send a signal that he approved of the way the U.S. is trying to engage Tehran. Diplomatic protocol did not require Bennett to meet Malley.

Malley continued on to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, whose leaders are just as wary of Washington’s diplomacy.

Axios also reported a separate phone call between Sullivan and Hulata.

According to Axios, Hulata urged the U.S. to push the International Atomic Energy Agency to censure Iran when the UN’s nuclear watchdog meets next week. The IAEA reported on Wednesday that Tehran’s uranium stockpile far exceeded the limits set down by the JCPOA and that its inspectors have been denied access to various surveillance monitors and electronic seals installed in various facilities.

The JCPOA agreement of 2015 was signed by Iran along with with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain — as well as the European Union and Germany. The agreement is vehemently opposed by Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the JCPOA in 2018.

President Biden has made returning to the nuclear agreement a key foreign policy goal.

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