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U.S. toughened positions in Iran deal response, Israeli officials say

When Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata found its way to Washington this week, his government was highly concerned that the Biden administration was going to make new concessions to attain a nuclear cope with Iran. Following the visit, that anxiety has been reduced, three Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: The U.S. and Iran have moved much nearer to a deal to revive the 2015 nuclear accord in recent weeks, but several key Iranian demands remain unresolved. Based on the Israeli officials, the U.S. has toughened its positions on those demands.

  • The Israeli government has consistently objected to the Biden administration’s efforts to salvage the offer. The other day, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that even continuing to negotiate would show “weakness.”
  • The White House says the reason why a deal is currently getting closer is that Iran has made significant concessions. However the Israeli side has been concerned the U.S. might soften its positions to have the deal over the line.

Driving the news headlines: Hulata met White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk on Tuesday and received a briefing on the U.S. reaction to Iran’s positions, each day before these were formally conveyed to Iran on paper.

  • Lapid said at a gathering of his political party on Wednesday in Tel Aviv that the U.S. had accepted a lot of Israel’s requests in its response.

One of the primary concerns for Israel has been that the U.S. would press the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to close its investigations into Irans undeclared nuclear activity, as Tehran has requested.

  • The senior U.S. officials clarified to Hulata that the U.S. wouldn’t normally put political strain on the agency, the Israeli officials say.
  • National security council spokesman John Kirby said publicly the very next day that the U.S. wouldn’t normally consent to make the nuclear deal depending on the closure of the IAEA probe.
  • We’ve communicated to Iran, both in public areas and private, that it must answer the IAEA questions. It is the only solution to address those concerns. And our position on that’s not likely to change,” Kirby briefed reporters.

Another Israeli concern was the possible easing of restrictions on conducting business with Iranian companies from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) following the deal.

  • The White House assured Israel it could not soften its position on that homework process, based on the Israeli officials.

A third concern was on the economic guarantees Iran would receive to safeguard against a scenario when a future U.S. president withdraws from the offer, as Trump did in 2018.

  • The Iranians have demanded that international companies that sign contracts in Iran get a 2.5-year grace period from renewed U.S. sanctions.
  • Based on the Israeli officials, the U.S. is only going to agree to this type of grace period if Iran remains in the offer for all those 2.5 years.

A White House National Security Council spokesperson said the administration has “taken a deliberate and principled method of these negotiations right away.”

  • “Gaps still remain, and we have been continuing to negotiate,” the spokesperson added.

State of play: After Hulata’s trip, the Israeli officials say they’re reassured that the U.S. will not intend to give Iran further meaningful concessions.

  • In addition they saw the U.S. airstrike against Iran-backed militias in Syria on Tuesday as an indicator that the U.S. isn’t rushing right into a nuclear deal.

Yes, but: The Israeli officials think Israel’s public pressure influenced the U.S. reaction to Iran’s positions, and intend to continue their engagement to prevent any U.S. concessions.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional details from the White House National Security Council.

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