Bennett side-steps meeting with US special envoy to Iran

Robert Malley met with Yair Lapid and intelligence officials during a two day visit to Israel.

By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News

Israel’s Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, did not meet with the Biden administration’s special envoy to Iran, Robert Malley, during the latter’s two day visit.

Malley visited the Jewish state as part of a regional trip, and will also visit the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain ahead of renewed talks with Iran over the nuclear deal.

“Bennett isn’t boycotting Malley. He believes that returning to the negotiating] table isn’t the right thing to do,” a source close to the prime minister told Israel Hayom. Another told the Israeli daily that Malley isn’t senior enough for Bennett to meet with him.

Instead Malley sat down with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, in addition to senior officials from the National Security Council, Foreign Ministry, and the intelligence community during meetings on Sunday and Monday

The topics for discussion are believed to have included America’s keenness to revive the nuclear deal, which fell apart in 2018 when the Trump Administration pulled out, followed by Iran. On the Israeli side, officials are expected to press their objections to the deal, and to ask the Biden Administration instead to impose further sanctions on Tehran.

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Both sides were also expected to discuss how to proceed if a renewed nuclear deal cannot be agreed.

Indirect U.S.-Iran talks are scheduled to resume on November 29 in Vienna.

Ahead of Malley’s arrival, Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, told the Jerusalem Post: “Israel must make it unequivocally clear to Rob Malley that it cannot tolerate Iran’s achievement of threshold capacity that is the ability to make nuclear weapons within a matter of weeks or even days.”

Oren insisted to the Post that “Israel must also make it unequivocally clear that any agreement with Iran must effectively block its path to a threshold capacity by physically dismantling its nuclear infrastructure, and by greatly extending the sunset clauses.”

He added: “Israel should demand concrete measures to stop Iran’s intercontinental ballistic missile system and its development of a nuclear warhead. America can maybe coexist with a threshold Iran, but Israel can’t.”

Negotiations to re-create the Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action stalled over the summer to allow first for elections to be held in Iran, and then for President Ebrahim Raisi to establish his administration.

However, while the Americans are keen to hammer out a deal – Malley told reporters in October “The window of diplomacy is never going to be closed.” – Tehran has dragged its feet on returning to the negotiating table.

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In October, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahain demanded the U.S. unfreeze at least $10 billion to demonstrate its sincerity on rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement.

Washington attempted to approach Iran via intermediaries at the United Nations in September but was rebuffed, Amir-Abdollahian told state television, according to Reuters.

“The Americans tried to contact us through different channels [at the U.N. General Assembly] in New York, and I told the mediators if America’s intentions are serious then a serious indication was needed … by releasing at least $10 billion of blocked money,” the minister said.

On Friday, Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said that the new Iranian government has not contacted him at all since Raisi’s cabinet was sworn into office in August.

“This is astonishing, and I am saying it openly because I’m saying it to them,” Grossi said. “There’s a long list of things we need to discuss.”