Blinken meets with Israeli spy chief over concerns with Iran

Secretary of State Antony Blinken 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.

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 Sullivan 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 Trump withdrew from in 2018.

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. 

Tags Antony Blinken Donald Trump Gilad Erdan Iran Israel Jake Sullivan United States US Yossi Cohen

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