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Blinken meets with Israeli spy chief over concerns with Iran

Blinken meets with Israeli spy chief over concerns with Iran
© CARLOS BARRIA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenOvernight Defense: Ex-Pentagon chief defends Capitol attack response as GOP downplays violence | Austin, Biden confer with Israeli counterparts amid conflict with Hamas | Lawmakers press Pentagon officials on visas for Afghan partners Biden speaks with Israel's Netanyahu amid spiraling conflict with Hamas Blinken talks with Netanyahu amid escalating violence MORE met Thursday with the director of Israel’s spy agency and its ambassador in Washington, a source familiar with the meeting confirmed to The Hill.

The meeting comes amid heightened tensions in the Middle East and as the Biden administration is participating in talks in Vienna to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Iran was top of the agenda in the meeting between Blinken and Mossad Director Yossi Cohen and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and U.N. Gilad Erdan, according to the source.

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It was a good meeting where Cohen and Erdan expressed deep concern on the nuclear issue with Iran and regional issues, according to the source.

Reuters first reported the meeting between the U.S. and Israeli officials.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday would not confirm or provide details of such a meeting but said the Biden administration has been in close contact with Israeli counterparts in particular over Iran.

“I don’t have any such meeting to confirm or read out, what I will say however is we have been in close contact with our Israeli counterparts,” Price said in a briefing with reporters.

Biden’s national security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanHouse lawmakers roll out bill to invest 0 million in state and local cybersecurity Blinken speaks with Israeli counterpart amid escalating conflict Biden sent letter to Palestinian president over 'current situations' MORE met with his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat on Tuesday where the two discussed Israel’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel firmly opposes the U.S. reentering the Obama-era nuclear deal that former President TrumpDonald TrumpWarren says Republican party 'eating itself and it is discovering that the meal is poisonous' More than 75 Asian, LGBTQ groups oppose anti-Asian crime bill McConnell says he's 'great admirer' of Liz Cheney but mum on her removal MORE withdrew from in 2018.

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But the Biden administration is seeking a pathway to reentry, with officials participating in their third-round of talks in Vienna over how the U.S. can lift sanctions imposed during the Trump administration in exchange for Iran reversing its violations of the deal.

Tehran maintains that its nuclear activities are peaceful.

Price said that U.S. special envoy for Iran Robert Malley, who is leading the U.S. delegation in Vienna over how to find a pathway for both the U.S. and Iran to reenter the nuclear agreement, also briefed the participants in the meeting with Sullivan and Ben-Shabbat.

“We have, as you’ve heard from State Department officials, updated our Israeli counterparts before every round of negotiations, after every round of negotiations and we’ve been consulting with them during these negotiations as well,” Price said.

“So, we have conducted ourselves with a great deal of transparency knowing that the United States and Israel share a common interest here, of course, and that is seen to it that Iran is verifiably and permanently prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

Tensions are high in the Middle East while the Vienna discussions are ongoing.

Israel is suspected to have been behind a mysterious attack on an Iranian nuclear facility earlier this month and the country is experiencing an outbreak of violence related to political and religious tensions between Palestinians and Israelis.

A senior U.S. delegation, reportedly being led by White House’s Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk, is departing for the Middle East this week. Price confirmed the trip but would not say who would be traveling or what the destinations would be.

Bloomberg reported that the itinerary tentatively includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan and other U.S. officials include State Department counselor Derek Chollet.

“A senior interagency delegation will be traveling over the coming week to discuss a number of important matters related to US national security in an effort to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East,” Price said.