Prime Minister Yair Lapid spoke on Thursday with European and American officials, sending the message that it was "time to get up and go" when it comes to nuclear talks with Iran, according to a senior Israeli official.
After Iran did not accept the European Union's "final draft" of the text as is, Lapid urged the leaders from Germany and the United States to find other means of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He spoke with Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides and Congressman Ted Deutch, who chairs the subcommittee that oversees American policy in the Middle East.
Negotiators have been attempting to restore the 2015 nuclear deal, which the Trump administration withdrew from in 2018. Iran has responded to the final version presented in Vienna, and the other parties to the agreement are studying it.
Lapid believes that the text of the European proposal, which wasn't published, steered far from the language the Biden administration had agreed to.
Israeli officials said this week that the European text includes guarantees that sanctions against Iran will not be reimposed for the duration of the agreement, removing obstacles for foreign companies that would have otherwise refrained from investing in or trading with Iran.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price meanwhile said that "[t]here is no question that we have tactical differences with our Israeli partners when it comes to" the nuclear deal, but that there is no difference in terms of the strategic goal of preventing Tehran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.
A mutual return to the deal will mean Iran "is subject to permanent and verifiable limits on its nuclear program, as well as to the most stringent verification and monitoring regime ever negotiated," Price said.
"It is not for me to speak to Israel's foreign policy, but we have heard from our Israeli partners, and when we've been together, this message has been echoed by both our principals: we see eye to eye on this overarching priority of ensuring that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon," he added.
According to the Israeli official who spoke with Haaretz, "Now is the time to sit down and talk about what to do next." The official added that Israel is not committed to any particular deal and "will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and also to prevent Iran from using its terrorist affiliates in the region. The U.S. knows and acknowledges this."
He further mentioned that Iran did not provide reliable explanations on the International Atomic Energy Agency investigative files that were opened on suspicion that the country had violated the agreement, saying this "should turn on a bright red light in the international community."
Israel's National Security Council head, Eyal Hulata, is expected to visit the U.S. next week for a round of talks with officials on the matter.
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Sources familiar with Iran's response say Tehran laid out three stipulations concerning Europe's proposal. The first: Iran’s demand to lift all the sanctions imposed on it, including removing the Iranian Revolutionary Guards from the list of terrorist organizations designated by the United States, even though President Joe Biden personally announced the U.S. would leave the Revolutionary Guards on the list. The second demand is to close the UN nuclear watchdog's investigations into suspicious nuclear sites.
The third demand is for a U.S. guarantee not to withdraw from the agreement again, and by extension a safeguard against reimposing sanctions that have been lifted. This demand is meant to allow Tehran to rebuild its economy over the long term and provide a “safety net” for international corporations that want to trade with Iran but are afraid of the imposition of sanctions against them in the future.
While the European Union may have been hoping for a clear “yes or no” Iranian response, Israel sees Tehran's comments on the final text as an attempt to drag the sides back into another round of talks.
A senior Israeli official warned last week against such a possibility, saying, “Israel hopes the powers will not allow the Iranians to continue with treading water and dragging the time out, and will internalize that the Iranians are not looking for an agreement.”
Israeli officials fear the EU may be veering towards conceding on one of Iran’s key demands: closing the International Atomic Energy Agency's open investigations against it. But sources say it's unlikely the U.S. will reverse its commitment not to close those investigations.
Ben Samuels contributed to this article from Washington, D.C.