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Sullivan (R) with Blinken. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/Pool/AFP via Getty

National security adviser Jake Sullivan raised with his Israeli counterpart the idea of an interim agreement with Iran to buy more time for nuclear negotiations, three Israeli and U.S. sources tell me.

Why it matters: The idea is only preliminary, and the Biden administration continues to insist that the full 2015 nuclear deal be restored. But with nuclear talks set to resume in Vienna on Nov. 29, it provides a window into at least some of the thinking inside the administration.

Behind the scenes: In recent weeks, Sullivan raised the idea of an interim deal while discussing next steps on the Iranian nuclear file with his counterpart Eyal Hulata.

  • Two American sources familiar with the call say the two were just "brainstorming" and that Sullivan was passing along an idea put forward by one of America's European allies.
  • 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.
  • According to the U.S. sources, the idea was that in exchange for a freeze from Iran (for example, on enriching uranium to 60%), the U.S. and its allies could release some frozen Iranian funds or provide sanctions waivers on humanitarian goods.

The other side: Hulata told Sullivan he thought it wasn’t a good idea and stressed the Israeli concern that any interim deal will become a permanent agreement that allows Iran to maintain its nuclear infrastructure and uranium stockpile, an Israeli official said.

  • In another call with Sullivan on Tuesday, Hulata also stressed that the U.S. and its European allies must push for a censure resolution against Iran in next week's meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, a source familiar with the conversations said.
  • Such a move to censure Iran would come just days before nuclear talks are set to resume.
  • A spokesperson for the Israeli National Security Council said details of this story were inaccurate, but would not specify which details and did not deny that the idea of an interim deal had been discussed.

Meanwhile, U.S. Iran envoy Rob Malley visited Israel this week and met with Hulata as well as with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, both of whom contended that the only way to get Iran back to the 2015 deal was to increase rather than loosen the pressure, according to a senior Israeli official.

  • Malley made clear that the Biden administration also thinks more pressure on Iran is needed. The main difference is over the timing of further steps against Iran, the official said.

What to watch: The U.S. approach is to go to Vienna in good faith and see what Iran proposes, a U.S. source familiar with the administration policy said.

  • If the Iranians make extreme demands, it will then be possible for the U.S. to get other world powers including Russia and China to increase the pressure, the source contended.
  • Iran's position heading into the talks is that the U.S. must compensate Iran for its withdrawal from the deal, lift all (not just nuclear) sanctions imposed since 2015 at once, rather than in phases, and provide assurances that no future administration will back out of the deal.

What’s next: On Nov. 22, IAEA director general Rafael Grossi will travel to Tehran to discuss the agency’s concerns about limitations placed on UN inspectors in the country, followed by the IAEA board meeting on Iran (Nov. 24-25) and the resumption of negotiations (Nov. 29).

Go deeper

Nov 24, 2021 - World

Scoop: Saudis tried to stop UAE-Israel-Jordan solar energy deal

The crown princes of the UAE (left) and Saudi Arabia. Photo: Saudi handout via Getty

The Saudi government pressured the United Arab Emirates to back off a major solar energy deal with Israel and Jordan, two senior Israeli officials with direct knowledge and another source briefed on the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: The agreement signed on Monday and helped across the finish line by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is the biggest renewable energy project in the region. It will see the UAE build a massive solar farm in Jordan to supply electricity to Israel, and Israel in turn will build a desalination plant to provide water to Jordan.

Jack Dorsey stepping down as Twitter CEO

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Jack Dorsey is stepping down as CEO of Twitter, the company announced Monday. He will be succeeded by CTO Parag Agrawal, effective immediately.

The big picture: Dorsey is also the CEO of financial payments company Square, which he co-founded in 2009, and has become a crypto evangelist in recent years.

Tracking the pandemic's unequal impact

Expand chart
Data: Morning Consult/Axios; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The pandemic was bound to hit the most economically vulnerable among us the hardest. New polling data from Morning Consult, out this morning, shows the degree to which those difficulties were more concentrated among people of color.

Catch up quick: The Morning Consult/Axios Inequality Index has tracked the economic experience of adults in three wage groups since May 2020. We began publishing the findings in May of this year, and six months in, we’re slicing the data a little differently — and looking at inequality between ethnicities.