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The United States is “determined” to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Foreign Minister Antony Blinken assured on Sunday in Jerusalem. He is trying to ease tensions with Israel and Arab countries over a possible deal with Tehran.

Mr. Blinken began a tour of the Middle East and the Maghreb on Saturday night, culminating in a meeting in the Israeli desert in the Negev (south), where his colleagues from Arab countries had normalized their relations with Israel. The issue of returning to an agreement on Iran’s civilian nuclear program will be on the agenda of the Negev ministerial meeting.

The United States and Iran are in the final stages of indirect negotiations in Vienna with the aim of reviving the 2015 pact, which should prevent Tehran from acquiring the atomic bomb, in return for lifting sanctions that stifle the Iranian economy.

“When it comes to the most important things, we are in the same boat: we are each committed, determined to ensure that Iran never gets hold of a nuclear weapon,” Blinken said during a press briefing in Jerusalem with his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid. .

“The United States believes that the return to full implementation (of the 2015 agreement) is the best way to put Iran’s nuclear program back in the box it was in,” before the unilateral US withdrawal in 2018, he added.

“The affair of the day”

The 2015 agreement fell apart after the US withdrawal followed by the reintroduction of sanctions against Iran. Tehran, in turn, has gradually liberated itself from the borders imposed on its nuclear program.

An EU official, Enrique Mora, met in Tehran on Sunday with Iranian chief negotiator Ali Baghéri and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to try to resolve the latest disagreements over a solution to Iran’s nuclear program.

“Mr. Baghéri stressed that an agreement can be reached if the US side is realistic,” the official Iranian agency Irna reported. “The absence of a US political decision to lift the sanctions (…) is the current obstacle” to a “final” settlement, Mr Amir-Abdollahian said in a statement from his ministry.

“Receiving all the economic benefits and an effective lifting of sanctions is our top priority,” he added. “Other parties, especially the US government, must take a realistic approach to resolving outstanding issues.”

Mora’s visit came the day after EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said it was a “matter of days” to reach an agreement. Prior to his visit, Mr Mora had tweeted: “We need to end this debate. The stakes are high”.

One of the outstanding issues is the removal of the Revolutionary Guards, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s ideological army, from Washington’s list of “terrorist organizations,” Amir-Abdollahian said Saturday.

But on Sunday, the United States’ special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, told Qatar that Washington would maintain sanctions against the Guardians, even though there is a nuclear deal. The Guardians “will remain sanctioned by U.S. law, and our perception (of them) will remain unchanged,” he claimed.

“They can not do it”

Israel is vaguely looking at a possible deal between the superpowers and Iran, its number one enemy, and fears it will exploit the deal to acquire nuclear weapons lurking. Israel, considered by experts to be the only nuclear power in the Middle East, accuses Iran of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, which this country denies.

“We disagree on the nuclear program and its implications, but are open to honest dialogue,” Lapid said. “Israel and the United States will work together to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Israel will do everything that must be done to stop Iran’s nuclear program … The Iranians want to destroy Israel. They will not succeed. We will not let them, ” he said.

“Agree or not, we will continue to work together, and with our other partners, to counter Iran’s actions aimed at destabilizing the region,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said after his meeting with Mr. Blinken. .

“Two weights, two measurements”

Mr. Blinken spoke early in the evening with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on the occupied West Bank. Abbas criticized the West’s “double standards”, quick to invoke international law to impose sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine, but not on Israel for its “crimes” against the Palestinians.

The head of US diplomacy then left for Sde Boker in the Negev to meet with Mr Lapid, their colleagues from the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Bahrain and Egypt, who arrived late in the day.

“Normalization with Israel is the new normal,” Blinken said as this normalization broke with decades of Arab consensus that conditioned the establishment of relations with Israel on the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hamas, in power in Gaza, estimates that the meeting in the Negev served to “legitimize Israel’s crimes” and to “integrate” the Jewish state into the region. Under Israeli blockade for more than 15 years, the poor and densely populated Palestinian enclave in Gaza has been the scene of several wars between Israel and Islamist Hamas.

Together with Mr. Blinken announced Mr. Bennett on Sunday increased from 12,000 to 20,000 in the number of work permits in Israel for Palestinians in Gaza.

Palestinian question referred

For Yoel Guzansky, senior analyst at the INSS research center in Tel Aviv, the Negev meeting shows “two things at once: that the Palestinian issue is at the bottom of the agenda and that there is more urgency like Iran”. “It is also a sign” that there are “actors in the region united” in the face of the “dangers” of Tehran.

“The most important message that will be conveyed is that there are several countries in the Middle East that are not satisfied with the US performance in terms of Iran (…),” Israeli analyst Uzi Rabi stressed. The discussions will be “muscular and not just Americans against Israelis, also Arab leaders”.

After Israel, Mr Blinken will travel to Morocco and Algeria.

This article has been published automatically. Sources: ats / afp

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