image Photo: Reuters

Iran tops Lapid’s US talks

Israel’s concern about Iran’s race towards nuclear capability has dominated meetings in Washington by visiting Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

By Erin Viner

“We have a lot to talk about: Iran, expanding the circle of normalization, and regional challenges,” Israel’s top diplomat said at the start of his meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department. “But before all of that, I think it’s important to dedicate a moment to discussing the strength and depth of the relationship between our two countries. This relationship is based on values and interests and on the way we view the world, on the way we think the world should look in the future,” he added.

Lapid thanked the Secretary of State for hosting him and holding a trilateral meeting with the United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, referring to the talks as “a powerful moment which sent a clear message to the entire region about Israel’s relationship with the United States and the whole region.”

“At the center of my visit here is the concern about Iran’s race to nuclear capability.  Iran is becoming a nuclear threshold country.  Every day that passes, every delay in negotiations brings Iran closer to a nuclear bomb. The Iranians are clearly dragging their heels, trying to cheat the world to continue to enrich uranium, to develop their ballistic missile program,” Lapid said at a joint press conference with his US and Emirati counterparts.

Secretary of State Blinken and I are sons of Holocaust survivors,” stressed the Israeli leader, underscoring that, “We know there are moments when nations must use force to protect the world from evil.”

Lapid then reiterated that, “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’ll 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.  Iran has publicly stated it wants to wipe us out. We have no intention of letting this happen.”

Secretary Blinken said that the US, Israel and the UAE are “united in the proposition that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon, and President Biden is committed to that proposition,” going on to say that Washington continues to “believe that the diplomatic path is the most effective way to ensure that that doesn’t happen.”

Washington’s top diplomat went on to acknowledge that while the US has made it “abundantly clear” that it is prepared to return to full compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear agreement (JCPOA, from which former President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018) if Iran “does the same,” that “what we are seeing – or maybe more accurately not seeing from Tehran now – suggests that they’re not.”

Blinken then repeated previous warnings that “time is running short” to revive the JCPOA due to ongoing nuclear development by the Ayatollah regime, which he specified includes the enrichment of uranium to 60%, use of more advanced centrifuges and acquisition of greater knowledge.

“And so as the Foreign Minister said, we are discussing this among ourselves, and we will look at every option to deal with the challenge posed by Iran,” Blinken revealed, referring to Lapid.

Emirati Foreign Minister Nahyan, for his part, responded to a question regarding prospects for a cessation of hostilities in Yemen, where Abu Dhabi’s armed forces are involved in combating the Iranian-backed Houthis – as part of the Saudi-led Coalition.

“What’s dragging us in the situation is the lack of will and commitment on the Houthi side in ending this conflict,” he said.

Drawing a parallel with Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Minister Nahyan underscored, “We have to keep in mind that we don’t end up with a situation where we have another Hezbollah threatening the borders of Saudi Arabia.  And the Houthis have managed to develop their capabilities in the last few years in a way which is much faster than the trajectory of Hezbollah developing its capabilities.”

The Emirati top diplomat further asserted that while his country supports international efforts to rehabilitate Yemen, neither the UAE or Saudis will accept transformation of the war-torn country into another southern Lebanon – when an Iranian terror army reigns supreme.

Iran also topped the agenda of Lapid’s talks with other US officials this week, particularly with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan at the White House. The two discussed various security issues, most notably the threat posed by Tehran, and the Foreign Minister shared with the National Security Advisor Israel’s concern over Iran’s approach to becoming a nuclear threshold state and the need for an alternative plan to reviving the JCPOA.

Minister Lapid also discussed Israel’s “Economy for Security” initiative for Gaza, as well as ways to further strengthen the strategic and security alliance between the US and Israel.

While speaking to Vice President Kamala Harris, Foreign Minister Lapid expressed gratitude to be with “one of the best friends Israel has in Washington. A leader that stands with us in all the important struggles and we can always count on in difficult moments,” in a friendship “based on shared values” of “democracy, liberty, human rights and respect.”

Even though he said the “center of my visit is the Iranian nuclear program,” Lapid told the Vice President his trip was also aimed at “strengthening our bipartisan relationship with the next generation of young Americans. This generation is not only preoccupied with wars and conflicts, but also with the climate crisis, the global immigration crisis, and questions of identity.”

Lapid emphasized Israel’s gratitude for the recent approval of $1 billion in funding by the US House of Representatives for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system during his talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

Madam Speaker, I want to use this opportunity to thank you personally for all your great help with the replenishment of the Iron Dome: this is the defense of our children and our people. I know you cared about it and you spent sleepless nights over it, and so I’m very thankful,” he said.

“You’re such a great friend of Israel and I know how important the special relationship between our countries is to you. You are one of the biggest supporters of the concept that says being pro-Israel means being bipartisan,” the Israeli Foreign Minister told the House Speaker.

“We all need to unite around the idea of expanding and deepening the circle of peace. We all need to unite around the basic principle that Israel has the right to defend itself and the Palestinians deserve a better life,” he added, stressing, “We all need to unite around the idea that we will never let Iran become a nuclear threshold state.”