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Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Eric Baradat (AFP), Gali Tibbon (AFP)/Getty Images

The Israeli government has raised concerns about Secretary of State Tony Blinken's announcement on Thursday that the U.S. is willing to open discussions with Iran about returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.

What they're saying: “Israel believes that going back to the old nuclear agreement will pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal. We remain committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

Why it matters: The Iranian issue is the main point of friction between Israel and the Biden administration, just as it was between Netanyahu and the Obama administration.

  • Israeli officials say the U.S. notified Israel in advance about the announcement. “We are in close contact with the United States on this matter," an Israeli official said.

Driving the news: Following a video conference on Thursday with his counterparts from France, Germany and the U.K., Blinken said the U.S. was prepared to discuss a path back to full, mutual compliance with the deal, which the Trump administration pulled out of and Iran is violating.

  • Enrique Mora, a senior EU foreign policy official, then proposed an informal meeting of diplomats from Iran and the six world powers that signed the nuclear deal.
  • Minutes later, the State Department issued a statement saying the U.S. was prepared to attend such a meeting. "The goal of coming together would be to sit down and to see what could be a prolonged path of trying to get back to a situation where both the U.S. and Iran were back into compliance," a State Department official said.
  • The U.S. took several other Iran-related steps on Thursday: America's acting representative to the UN submitted a letter to members of the UN Security Council reversing the Trump administration's efforts to snap UN sanctions on Iran backed into place.
  • The U.S. mission to the UN also notified the Iranian mission that all travel restrictions imposed by the Trump administration on Iranian diplomats in the U.S. would be lifted.

What’s next: On Feb. 23, Iran is expected to withdraw from the “additional protocol” of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

  • That would see Iran curtail its cooperation with UN inspectors, suspending their ability to conduct unannounced visits to nuclear sites. Experts see that as the most damaging step
  • The U.S. is waiting to see whether the meeting proposal could help delay the Iranian steps.

Go deeper

Feb 18, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Blinken tells EU counterparts U.S. is ready to open talks with Iran

Photo: Pool/Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his counterparts from the E3 — France, Germany and the U.K. — in a video conference on Thursday that the U.S. is prepared to engage in discussions with Iran in an attempt to reach an agreement on returning to full compliance of the 2015 nuclear deal, according to a joint readout of the call.

Why it matters: The U.S. and Iran still haven't engaged in direct talks since President Biden assumed office. Both sides are exchanging public messages demanding the other take the first step to move forward with the nuclear deal.

Feb 19, 2021 - World

What to make of the Biden administration's first overseas calls

Expand chart

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to wait a month for a call from President Biden, and while Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman got a call Thursday, it came not from Biden but from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The big picture: Biden, Austin, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and national security adviser Jake Sullivan have together called officials from at least 43 countries, with Blinken alone calling 39 (there’s considerable overlap between their call lists).

Feb 18, 2021 - World

Russia brokers unusual prisoner exchange between Israel and Syria

Netanyahu (L) and Putin in Moscow in January 2020. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russia has brokered an unusual prisoner swap that saw Syria release an Israeli woman who crossed into the country on Thursday, Israeli officials say.

The big picture: The two weeks leading up to the deal involved a call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the capture of two Syrian shepherds by Israel as bargaining chips, and the refusal of a Syrian prisoner to leave prison as part of the deal.