Aug 25, 2021 - World

U.S. has options if Iran talks fail, officials say ahead of Israeli PM's visit

Biden in the Oval Office. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty

If diplomacy fails, the U.S. will consider using other means to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, senior Biden administration officials said in a briefing ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's visit to the White House.

Why it matters: Iran is the main agenda item for Bennett's visit, and he is expected to push for a "Plan B" now that nuclear talks have stalled. The U.S. officials didn't say what exactly the administration would consider but are clearly trying to reassure the Israelis that they are willing to pressure Iran.

  • One of the officials quoted a remark Bennett made prior to his departure about the fact that Iran's nuclear program has continued to progress over the last few years, citing it as proof that the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal was a mistake.
  • "We are committed to the diplomatic track with Iran and think it is the best way to roll back its nuclear program but if that doesn’t work there are other avenues to pursue," the official said.
  • Between the lines: Bennett thinks a return to the deal has become less likely now that Iran has a new hardline administration, and wouldn't provided the expected non-proliferation benefits because of Iran's nuclear advancements. That explains his push for a "Plan B."

Driving the news: Bennett met earlier today with Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and will meet national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Wednesday night. Iran is a primary focus of all these meetings.

The state of play: The senior administration officials said they are encouraged by Bennett’s comments about the “spirit of cooperation" between the U.S. and Israel, including on Iran. They said they didn’t know yet if and when the nuclear talks in Vienna would resume, but that the U.S. would cooperate with Israel on Iran.

  • The officials also rejected the idea that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan signals a de-prioritization of the Middle East by the administration or a decrease in commitment to partners in the region like Israel.
  • One official also noted the current "political complexities" in Israel — where Bennett is trying to hold together a wobbly coalition — and said "we think Bennett is navigating things very well."
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