In Israel, Sullivan Says Deadline for Iran Nuke Talks Is 'Within Weeks'

'There is still room for a diplomatic effort,' Sullivan says, adding it would be backed with pressure and decisiveness in order to ensure Tehran doesn't obtain nuclear weapons

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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U.S. national security advisor meets Israeli leaders in Jerusalem in December.
U.S. national security advisor meets Israeli leaders in Jerusalem in December.Credit: David Azagury / U.S. Embassy Jerusalem
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The United States and other world powers have determined a deadline behind closed doors for the nuclear talks with Iran which will end "within weeks," U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told Haaretz on Wednesday.

Sullivan estimated that it is still possible to advance a decisive diplomatic agreement with the Islamic Republic. Addressing whether the United States will mobilize military force against Iran in order to keep it from acquiring an atomic bomb, Sullivan said that these are not the only two options.

"There is still room for a diplomatic effort," he said, which would be backed with pressure and decisiveness in order to ensure Tehran does not get its hands on an atomic weapon.

When asked if there is a timeline for the nuclear talks, Sullivan replied, "we're not circling a date on the calendar in public, but I can tell you that behind closed doors we are talking about time frames, and they are not long," he told reporters during a visit to Israel.
Asked to elaborate on the time frame, Sullivan said: "Weeks."

On "whether Iran is ready for the diplomatic solution" regarding the nuclear issue, he said that the United States is focusing on its work with its partners in Vienna in order to ensure the best chances of reaching an agreement.

"I won't talk about the details of the negotiations," he said about the possibility of an interim agreement on Iran. "We intend to guarantee that Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons." Any sanctions that are removed, he said, must be accompanied by limitations in order to ensure a good deal. 

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He added that he personally isn’t a big fan of the phrase “less for less,” which is often used in referring to an interim deal. Rather, he said, U.S. officials are working hard to secure a return to the original 2015 nuclear deal. Asked whether he is optimistic about the chances of reaching an agreement with Iran, Sullivan said that in general, he isn’t a big optimist on issues of national security. Nevertheless, he said, he does believe an agreement is possible.

Asked whether the administration is prepared to impose additional sanctions on Iran if the talks fail, he said that the Biden administration has already imposed new sanctions on Iran and hasn’t lifted any existing ones. He said the administration is seeking to ensure that existing sanctions are enforced and has been discussing what forms future pressure might take with other countries, including Israel. However, he declined to elaborate further.

Regarding the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, Sullivan said he couldn’t speak for Israel, which is an independent country. Nevertheless, he added, the administration still believes the best way to prevent a nuclear Iran is through diplomacy and pressure.

Aside from the Iranian issue, Sullivan also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with both Bennett and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He declined to give specifics, but said he had discussed the settlements with Bennett, and that Bennett knows Washington’s position on this issue, including its opinion of specific construction plans.

He also confirmed that the issue of reopening the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem came up, adding that the administration’s position on the conflict is well known.

Another issue that arose was Israel’s relationship with China. Sullivan said there has been a series of strategic discussions about the challenges posed by China and that Israeli officials were shown some intelligence on what China is doing technologically. He added that he believes America and Israel are on the same page with regard to the nature of this challenge and how to address it.

Sullivan is in Israel on Wednesday for a series of high-profile meetings. In brief remarks at the start of his meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, Sullivan said the two countries are at a "critical juncture" on various security issues, adding: "It's important that we sit together and develop a common strategy, a common outlook."

Israeli officials fear President Joe Biden is overly "eager" to reach an interim agreement with Iran, which would see sanctions removed but not provide sufficient guarantees to keep Tehran's nuclear progress in check.

"What happens in Vienna has profound ramifications for the stability of the Middle East and the security of Israel for the upcoming years," Bennett told Sullivan, referring to the location of the negotiations with Iran.

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