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White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk, left, and Israel's National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata speak together during the 17th IISS Manama Dialogue on Nov. 21. Photo: Mazen Mahdi/AFP via Getty Images

MANAMA, Bahrain — The differences between the Biden administration and the Israeli government regarding the nuclear talks with Iran were aired out in the open during an international conference in Bahrain on Sunday.

Why it matters: Both sides have been trying in recent months to hash out their differences in private and avoid a public clash, but this is becoming more difficult as talks with Iran are set to resume on Nov. 29 in Vienna.

Driving the news: The closing session of the annual Manama Dialogue brought together Israeli National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata and President Biden’s senior Middle East adviser Brett McGurk.

  • Hulata and McGurk tried to present a unified front, but right from the opening speeches, the presented diverging positions in front of dozens of officials and experts from the Gulf and Western countries.
  • While the Israeli official spoke about the need to prevent Iran from having “a nuclear breakout” capability, his U.S. counterpart spoke about the Biden administration's commitment to prevent Iran “from getting a nuclear weapon.”
  • During the Q&A session, the differences weren’t just nuanced as Hulata and McGurk disagreed about the need for a credible military threat to deter Iran from advancing its nuclear program further.

What they are saying: Hulata, a former Mossad general who spoke publicly for the first time, said that Iran stopped its efforts to get a nuclear weapon only when the world stood decisively against it. “Israel will defend itself against Iran if it needs to and we are making the preparations for this,” he said.

  • McGurk, on the other hand, said the U.S. is focusing on the Vienna talks and wants diplomacy to succeed. Only if it fails will the Biden administration consider other options, according to McGurk, who added that military action could damage Iran’s nuclear program, but won’t change its behavior.
  • The Biden’s adviser stressed that the Trump administration's decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal allowed Iran to dramatically advance its nuclear program and added that the previous president's maximum pressure campaign against Iran had failed. “"We have no illusions that they suddenly change their orientation or that the regime will collapse under sanctions,” McGurk said.
  • On this claim, Hulata said that “Iran won’t make concessions only because we ask them nicely. They don’t work like that. Whoever says pressure doesn’t work needs to look at how pressure by both Republican and Democratic administrations made Iran change its policy,” he said.

What’s next: During the upcoming talks in Vienna, the new Iranian negotiating team is expected to present its position on the draft agreement, which was achieved in June before the Iranian presidential election.

  • One area on which both the Biden administration and the Israeli government agree — nothing dramatic is likely to happen during this round of talks. The main questions are 'how bad could it get?' and 'what will the U.S. do next?

Go deeper

Updated Dec 3, 2021 - World

Western negotiators tell Iran new nuclear proposals are "not serious"

Iran nuclear talks resumed in Vienna this week. Photo: EU Vienna Delegation/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The nuclear negotiators for the E3 – France, Germany and the U.K. – told Iranian negotiators in coordination with the U.S. that the opening proposals they presented in Vienna nuclear talks this week were unserious and unacceptable, an E3 diplomat briefed on the talks said.

Why it matters: The readout of the first round of talks show gaps between Iran and its Western counterparts that at the moment seem very wide and hard to bridge.

Updated 41 mins ago - World

Myanmar's deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi sentenced to 4 years in prison

An anti-coup protest in Yangon, Myanmar.Photo: Hkun Lat/Getty Images

A Myanmar court sentenced the country's ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Monday to four years in prison on charges of "inciting public unrest" and breaking COVID-19 protocols, per the New York Times.

Why it matters: It's the first of several verdicts that could result in the 76-year-old Nobel laureate being imprisoned for the rest of her life. The 11 charges she faces have been widely criticised as politically motivated.

4 hours ago - World

Pope Francis denounces European governments' migrant response

Pope Francis adresses refugees at the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos on Sunday. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis criticized European countries' response to migrants and asylum seekers during his visit to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos Sunday.

Why it matters: The pope said "migration is a humanitarian crisis that concerns everyone," but little had changed in the global response to displaced peoples since his first visit to Lesbos five years ago, per a transcript of his remarks. "Human lives, real people, are at stake. ... let us stop this shipwreck of civilization!"

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