According to media reports, with Iran and world powers resumed nuclear talks, Saudi Arabia and Israel also have intensified consultations. Washington and Tel Aviv on the one hand and Washington and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council on the other hand are having extensive talks.
Both, Israel and Saudi Arabia want to influence any US move to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which they have publicly opposed right from the beginning.
As the Iranian negotiating team head to the Austrian capital of Vienna, a senior Israeli delegation comprising of Mossad Chief Yosef Cohen, Head of Military Intelligence Tamir Hayman, and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat also arrived in Washington for talks. Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army Aviv Kochavi was also supposed to join the delegation but the recent hike in Israel-Gaza tensions forced him to cancel his trip to Washington.
The visiting delegation met with several high-level Biden officials including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley and senior US military and intelligence officials. The focus of the conversations is squarely on the terms of the US return to the 2015 nuclear deal.
Sullivan and Ben-Shabbat held their first in-person meeting since Joe Biden entered the White House. The US and Israeli officials discussed their serious concerns about advancements in Iran’s nuclear program in recent years. The United States updated Israel on the talks in Vienna and emphasized strong US interest in consulting closely with Israel on the nuclear issue going forward. The US and Israel agreed on the significant threat posed by Iran’s aggressive behavior in the region.
Following the meeting of Sullivan and Ben-Shabbat, the White House said the US and Israel agreed to establish a new group to counter Iran’s drones and missiles.
The United States and Israel agreed to establish an inter-agency working group to focus particular attention on the growing threat of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and Precision Guided Missiles produced by Iran, claiming that these weapons are being provided to proxy groups in the West Asia region.
Also US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley held talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan alongside officials from the countries of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Malley said he discussed the Arab officials the situation around the JCPOA and the Vienna nuclear talks.
The US discussions with Saudi Arabia aim to persuade them the US return to the 2015 nuclear deal will not harm their own interests. But this is exactly what the Obama administration told the Saudis and the Israelis after signing the JCPOA in 2015. Instead of supporting the deal, the Saudis and Israelis joined forces to kill the deal and the Trump came into power, they saw a new opportunity to scrub the deal. They may have even thought that the JCPOA would never be revived given the blows the Trump administration delivered to it. This may explain why they are so anxious about the JCPOA being revived after four years of anti-JCPOA rhetoric from Washington.
If the Biden administration is really keen to revive the JCPOA, it needs to be aware of any possible unconstructive efforts on the part of the Saudis and Israelis because they have never been proponents of the deal and they are unlikely to change their mind just because there is a new president in the White House. Of course, they may stop short of calling on the Biden administration to refrain from rejoining the JCPOA but they will certainly ask the U.S. to at least make some amendments to the original deal, something that will be opposed by other signatories to the JCPOA namely Russia and Iran.
Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, has recently said that the negotiators in Vienna have come to conclude that regional security and missile production are different from curbing Iran’s nuclear program.
Curbing Iran’s nuclear program is a different matter from regional security and missile production. At the end of two rounds of talks in Vienna to revive the JCPOA, it was clear to all participants that only by reviving the original agreement could achieve the goals. No new terms or clauses needs to be added. Iran has strongly rejected any attempt to expand the JCPOA, while calling on the US to remove its sanctions.