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At Washington meetings, US, Israeli officials discuss Iranian nuke program

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and Culture and Sport Minister Miki Zohar arrive at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on Jan. 3, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and Culture and Sport Minister Miki Zohar arrive at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on Jan. 3, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi met in Washington on Monday with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken amid growing concern in Jerusalem over Iran’s nuclear progress.

The officials discussed the “enduring strength” of the U.S.-Israel bilateral relationship, with Blinken reiterating the Biden administration’s commitment to preventing Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, according to Ned Price, a State Department spokesman.

Price noted the importance of the U.S.-Israel Strategic Consultative Group in advancing mutual cooperation on threats posed by Iran, while also expressing concern regarding ongoing violence in Judea and Samaria.

Price emphasized the need for all parties to take steps to restore calm and de-escalate tensions, said the statement.

That day, Jake Sullivan, U.S. President Joe Biden’s national security advisor, hosted a meeting of the U.S.-Israel Strategic Consultative Group, which included Hanegbi and Dermer, as well as “a senior Israeli interagency delegation,” according to a joint statement, which the White House provided.

“They were joined by senior representatives from their respective foreign policy, defense and intelligence agencies,” it added. Both sides “pledged to enhance coordination on measures to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and to further deter Iran’s hostile regional activities,” and Israeli and U.S. officials reviewed joint U.S. military and Israel Defense Forces exercises.

The two high-level meetings come after Iran indicated over the weekend its “readiness” to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog last month found uranium enriched to 83.7% in the Islamic Republic.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi was in Tehran for two days of meetings that “addressed the importance of taking steps in order to facilitate enhanced cooperation, to expedite as appropriate the resolution of outstanding safeguards issues,” according to a statement released by the parties on Saturday.

Grossi said that Tehran will allow the IAEA to reinstall some monitoring equipment that was removed last year amid stalled talks to revive the moribund 2015 nuclear deal. However, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said that inspectors would not be given access to several sensitive sites regarding which the IAEA is seeking clarifications of past nuclear work.

Grossi said that follow-up talks in Iran aimed at hammering out the details of the informal agreement would take place “very, very soon.”

The IAEA has confirmed in a report that its inspectors found enriched uranium to 83.7 percent at Iran’s underground nuclear site in Fordow, just below the 90% enrichment level considered “military grade.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday criticized as “unworthy” Grossi’s statement a day earlier that any attack on Iran’s nuclear program would be illegal.

“Against which law?” said Netanyahu at the weekly Cabinet meeting. “Is Iran, which openly calls for our destruction, permitted to defend the destructive weapons that would slaughter us? Are we permitted to defend ourselves? It is clear that we are, and it is clear that we will do so.”

Grossi, he said, was “a worthy gentleman who said something unworthy.”

Referencing Tuesday’s Purim holiday, the Israeli premier said, “2,500 years ago an enemy arose in Persia who sought to destroy the Jews. They did not succeed then, neither will they succeed today.”

Last week, U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl warned that Tehran could produce enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb in less than two weeks, comments that echoed those made in a recent interview by CIA chief William Burns.

Netanyahu has warned that in the absence of a credible military threat or actual military action, Iran will become a nuclear power.

“The longer you wait, the harder that becomes [to prevent]. We’ve waited very long. I can tell you that I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That is not merely an Israeli interest; it’s an American interest; it’s in the interest of the entire world,” he said.

Lloyd Austin, the U.S. secretary of defense, is scheduled to visit Israel later this week.

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