WASHINGTON: The United States and Israel said Wednesday they are exploring a “Plan B” for dealing with Iran if the Islamic Republic does not return in good faith to negotiations to salvage the languishing landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said discussions between their two countries have begun on “other options” should Iran reject an offer to come back into compliance with the agreement if the US rejoins it. They did not elaborate on what those options might be, but there are a wide range of non-diplomatic options that could be considered, ranging from stepped up sanctions to covert or military actions.
The remarks were a rare acknowledgment by the US that it is looking at what to do in the event diplomacy with Iran fails. Israel has never been a party to the nuclear deal, which former President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018, and its former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a vocal opponent of the agreement negotiated by the Obama administration.
Blinken and Lapid made the remarks at a joint news conference at the State Department with the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates at which all three agreed to try to expand on the so-called “Abraham Accords,” the Trump-era agreements that normalized relations between Israel and the UAE and other Arab states.
Their comments came as Iran has hinted it’s ready to return to indirect negotiations with the US in Vienna but has not committed to a date. Iran has also continued to blow through limits on it nuclear activities that had been constrained by the deal.
Blinken reiterated that the window for Iran to return to the agreement is closing but again declined to give a date at which it would be too late. “Time is running short,” he said. “We are prepared to turn to other options if Iran doesn’t change course, and these consultations with our allies and partners are part of it.”
“We will look at every option to to deal with the challenge posed by Iran,” Blinken said. “And we continue to believe that diplomacy is the most effective way to do that. But, it takes two to engage in diplomacy, and we have not seen from Iran a willingness to do that at this point.”
Lapid was more blunt, raising anew Israel’s warnings that it will act, with military force if necessary, to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
“There are moments when nations must use force to protect the world from evil,” he said. “If a terror regime is going to acquire a nuclear weapon we must act. We must make clear that the civilized world won’t allow it. If the Iranians don’t believe the world is serious about stopping them, they will race to the bomb. Israel reserves the right to act at any given moment in any way. That is not only our right, it is also our responsibility.”
Blinken renewed US opposition to normalization with Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has seen growing acceptance from Arab nations that have concluded he won the brutal civil war.
“What we have not done and what we do not intend to do is to express any support for efforts to normalize relations or rehabilitate Mr.Assad or lifted a single sanction on Syria or changed our position to oppose the reconstruction of Syria, until there is irreversible progress toward a political solution, which we believe is necessary and vital,” Blinken said.
He also said the Biden administration intends to press ahead with its plan to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem as part of efforts to deepen ties with Palestinians.
Blinken reiterated his pledge to move toward re-establishing the consulate, which had traditionally been a base for diplomatic outreach to the Palestinians before it was closed by President Joe Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, in 2018.
Meanwhile, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed said that he would visit Israel soon, adding that his country was impressed with the growing bilateral relationship.
Bin Zayed also said that there could be no talk of peace in the Middle East if Israel and the Palestinians were not “on talking terms.”
He stressed that a more successful UAE-Israeli relationship would encourage both Israelis and Palestinians to see “that this path works, that this path is worth not only investing in but also taking the risk.”
Last year, Israel and the UAE agreed to normalize relations in a major shift in Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to the fight against Iran.
On the conflict in Yemen, the UAE wants a resolution “but what’s dragging us in the situation is the lack of will and commitment on the Houthis’ side,” Bin Zayed said, referring to the Iran-aligned movement that ousted the internationally recognized government from the capital Sanaa in 2014 and now holds most of northern Yemen and main urban centers.
“We are all working very hard among friends to ensure Yemenis have a better life. But at the same time, we have to keep in mind that we don’t end up with a situation where we have another Hezbollah threatening the border of Saudi Arabia,” he said, referring to the powerful Shiite group aligned to Iran in Lebanon.
(With AP, AFP and Reuters)
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