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US and Arab diplomats meet in Israel amid Iran tensions

March 27, 2022

The Iran nuclear deal dominated the agenda at a summit of US and Arab diplomats in Israel. Top US diplomat Antony Blinken has promised Washington sees "eye-to-eye" with allies on containing Tehran.

Picture of Israeli, US, Bahraini, Moroccan, Egyptian and UAE leaders shaking hands at the summit in the Sde Boker settlement, Isreal
While the new Iran nucear deal was high on the agenda, other issues such as Israeli-Palestinian relations were also addressed in the summitImage: Jacquelyn Martin/AP/picture alliance

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, senior Israeli diplomats, and the foreign ministers of Egypt, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Morocco met in a rare summit on Monday amid signs of a potential breakthrough on reviving the international nuclear deal with Iran.

The six-nation talks at Sde Boker, a settlement in the Negev Desert, has been hailed as "historic," by Israel, after it normalized diplomatic relations with Bahrain, Morocco, and the UAE.

What do we know about the summit?

High on the agenda for the leaders was discussing concerns about the new Iran nucear deal, which Israel fiercely opposes but other issues such as Israeli-Palestinian relations were also addressed.

Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on that "this new architecture, the shared capabilities we are building, intimidates and deters our common enemies - first and foremost Iran and its proxies."

"They certainly have something to fear," he said about Iran, a country Israel is accusing of seeking a nuclear bomb, a goal the Islamic republic denies pursuing.

Bahrain's foreign minister, Abdullatif al-Zayani, said the need to cooperate was made "more urgent" by attacks by Iranian-backed militant groups and the unresolved nuclear issue.

"We need to put into practice the principles behind the accords, mainly those of dialogue, cooperation and mutual respect,'' he said.

"By doing so, we will demonstrate to the whole region what can be achieved by working together."

All four Arab countries are considered Sunni Muslim nations that have deep concerns about Shiite Iran gaining more power in the Middle East.

Officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal was signed in 2015, placing curbs on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief. It began to unravel in 2018 when the US under former President Donald Trump pulled out.

The US under President Joe Biden has been working to restore the deal, and Blinken said Sunday that it is the "best way to put Iran's program back in the box it was in.''

Concerns over new deal with Iran

Opponents of the nuclear deal say sanctions relief only served to enrich Tehran, while giving the country time to covertly develop nuclear weapons.

"When it comes to the most important element, we see eye-to-eye,'' Blinken told a news conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem. "We are both committed, both determined that Iran will never acquire a nuclear weapon."

Lapid said although Israel and the US will continue to work together to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, Israel would not hesitate to take unilateral action against Tehran.

"From our point of view the Iranian threat is not theoretical. The Iranians want to destroy Israel. They will not succeed, we will not let them," Lapid said. 

What is the status of the Iran deal?

Whether the deal will be renewed remains unclear. Talks in Vienna broke off earlier this month, complicated by Russia's war in Ukraine, and Moscow demanding that its trade with Iran be exempted from Western sanctions in a new deal package.

Tehran has also demanded the US lift the terrorist designation on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). However, there were signs this week that Russia and Iran would be more flexible on these demands.

Speaking at the Doha Forum in Qatar Sunday, EU foreign policy chief Joesep Borell said a deal with Iran could be renewed "within days."

However, at the same event, US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said Sunday he was not confident a deal would go through anytime soon.      

"In any negotiations, when there's issues that remain open for so long, it tells you something about how hard it is to bridge the gap," he said.

wmr,fh/wd (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)