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Naftali Bennett with Joe Biden in August. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Secretary of State Tony Blinken in a phone call on Thursday that the Biden administration should end the nuclear negotiations with Iran in Vienna, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Why it matters: Up to now, the Israeli government opposed a return to the 2015 nuclear agreement. Now, Israel is opposing talking to Iran at all.

Driving the news: A senior Israeli official said Bennett’s call with Blinken was “long and difficult” and that 90% of it focused on Iran, including an update from Blinken on the talks that resumed this week in Vienna.

  • Bennett raised a new International Atomic Energy Agency report that found that Iran was now enriching uranium to 20% purity at its underground nuclear facility in Fordow using sophisticated IR-6 centrifuges, in violation of the 2015 deal.
  • “Iran is engaged in nuclear blackmail as a negotiation tactic — this must lead to an immediate suspension of the talks in Vienna and to harsh retaliation steps by the world powers," Bennett told Blinken, according to a statement from his office.
  • Bennett also argued in the call against any sanctions relief for Iran, including in an interim agreement, the Israeli official said.

The other side: A spokesperson for Iran's Foreign Ministry said Bennett's demand didn't come as a surprise to Iran. "Delegates in Vienna won't take instruction from Beit Aghion," he wrote on Twitter, referring to the Israeli prime minister's residence.

  • Iran's chief negotiator in Vienna, deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani, told Iranian reporters that he had "cautioned the other negotiators that efforts should be made not to allow actors outside the talks to negatively impact the process."

The latest: Blinken said at a press conference in Stockholm on Thursday that he had a “good and detailed” conversation with Bennett. “We have the same strategic objective: preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon," He said.

  • Blinken added that the U.S. will know “in a day or two” whether Iran is ready to negotiate in good faith, but "recent moves don’t give us a reason for optimism."

Worth noting: This was the first phone call between Naftali and Blinken, who had communicated previously with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

What’s next: Gantz is expected to visit Washington next Thursday for talks about Iran with Blinken and with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Go deeper

Jan 12, 2022 - World

Israel PM gambles on no lockdown strategy as cases climb

Naftali Bennett. Photo: Amir Levy/Getty

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is facing growing criticism as Israel continues to set new records for daily COVID cases, but he's decided to try to ride out the fifth wave without new lockdowns.

Why it matters: Bennett has taken a big bet that the Israeli health system will be able to withstand the Omicron wave.

Jan 12, 2022 - World

China hosts string of Gulf officials in sign of growing influence

Wang Yi (right) greets Faisal bin Farhan on Jan. 10. Photo: Ji Chunpeng/Xinhua via Getty

The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain and the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council are all visiting China this week for talks on boosting trade and security cooperation.

Why it matters: The flurry of visits by Gulf officials is part of China’s push for deeper involvement in the Middle East. For Beijing, the Gulf in particular is key to its energy supply and increasingly to its geopolitical influence.

Jan 14, 2022 - World

U.S. braces for Russian escalation as talks hit “dead end”

OSCE Chairman-in-Office Zbigniew Rau said Thursday "the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever." Photo: Askin Kiyagan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The crisis over Russia's threatening military buildup on the border with Ukraine entered a dangerous and unpredictable new phase in both Vienna and Washington on Thursday.

Driving the news: Russian diplomats said this week's round of security talks from Geneva and Brussels to Vienna have resulted in a "dead end," and it's time for them to return to Moscow to brief President Vladimir Putin on the "very disappointing" state of affairs before deciding the path forward.