Senior US delegation heads to Israel and Palestine to discuss Iran and regional issues

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan will meet Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Jake Sullivan will be joined by Brett McGurk and Yael Lempert on the trip. EPA

A senior inter-agency US delegation led by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is headed to Israel and Palestine this week to hold high-level meetings on the Iranian nuclear programme as well as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The White House announced the trip on Monday and the delegation is expected to visit Israel on Tuesday and then head to the West Bank later in the week.

Mr Sullivan will be joined by Brett McGurk, the White House Middle East co-ordinator, and Yael Lempert, acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.

“In Israel, Mr Sullivan will meet Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and senior Israeli government officials to reaffirm the US commitment to Israel’s security and consult on a range of issues of strategic importance to the US-Israel bilateral relationship, including the threat posed by Iran,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said.

US-Israeli co-ordination on Iran has gained steam in the past few weeks as negotiations between Tehran and major world powers stumbled in Vienna and Israeli officials threatened “possible and necessary” action to halt Iran’s nuclear programme.

“We are deepening international co-operation and I am certain that soon, both overt and covert actions will be expanded, by a variety of means,” Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said in the Knesset on Monday.

Speaking to reporters, a senior US official said on Monday that Iran will top the delegation’s agenda in Israel.

“We share with our Israeli partners a deep concern about the advancements in Iran's nuclear programme … the US and Israel are totally aligned in our determination to ensure Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon,” he said.

The US official added that the acceleration of Iran’s nuclear programme means the window is closing for a diplomatic breakthrough.

“This is a very serious situation. It's something that both we and [the] Israelis very much agree on and we'll talk about where we are in the coming weeks,” he said. “We don't have much time.”

Asked if the US delegation will try to dissuade Israel from carrying out unilateral action against Iran, the US official said the administration of President Joe Biden supports Israel’s right to self-defence.

“We support Israel's right to defend itself. I don't want to get into any of the internal discussions when it comes to their own self-defence needs.”

In Israel, Mr Sullivan will co-lead the fourth Strategic Consultative Group (SCG) with Israeli counterpart Eyal Hulata, the White House said.

Mr Sullivan will meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank later in the week, making him the highest White House official to do so since President Joe Biden took office this year.

The talks in Ramallah will focus on “ongoing efforts to further strengthen US-Palestinian ties and advance peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis alike".

An increasing number of US officials have visited the West Bank in the past month, including Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland and US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

In a statement, the State Department said Ms Lempert is visiting Jordan before heading to Israel to meet senior Jordanian government officials, including Minister of Water and Irrigation Mohammed Al Najjar and Minister of Planning and International Co-operation Nasser Shraideh.

Updated: December 20th 2021, 11:15 PM