Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog said on Thursday that “diplomacy [with Iran] isn’t necessarily a bad thing” while speaking at a pro-Israel conference in Washington DC.
Herzog was commenting on the recent reports of the major progress made between the U.S. and Iran on nuclear talks. Speaking to the pro-Israel organization Democratic Majority for Israel, Herzog said that “As far as we’re concerned, diplomacy in and of itself, and such understandings, are not necessarily bad to the extent that they can help deescalate a situation.”
The ambassador continued: “For us, for diplomacy to succeed to bring about a positive outcome, it has to be backed by very strong deterrence on Iran and a credible military threat. The Iranians will give nothing for free or voluntarily, and there ought to be very strong deterrence vis-à-vis Iran.”
The ambassador again reiterated Israel’s long-held position on Iran, but also emphasized that despite the progress, “Israel has always maintained that no matter what diplomatic outcome [arises] between the international community and Iran, Israel will maintain its independence and freedom of action to take action to safeguard its own national security interests.”
Herzog’s comments come on the heels of a Haaretz report saying that senior Israeli officials believe that the U.S. would refrain from calling any understandings with Iran an agreement, in order to avoid putting the provisions to a congressional vote.
Barbara Leaf, the top U.S. diplomat relating to the Middle East, described the reports as “misinformation and disinformation,” noting the administration has consistently stated it will use all sorts of diplomacy to contain threats posed by Iran.
“We do believe ultimately that the best way to constrain the program is to get it back into a box with rigorous oversight and inspection regime and so on. The JCPOA, for a variety of reasons, is really not actively on the table, but we are trying to get to a place where we can get Iran to deescalate on a variety of fronts,” she told a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller similarly warned “rumors about a nuclear deal, interim or otherwise, are false and misleading.” He added that he would not “speculate about an interim agreement that just does not exist.”
For Iran’s part, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said earlier this week that “There is nothing wrong with the agreement (with the West), but the infrastructure of our nuclear industry should not be touched.”
On Monday, for the first time, a senior Iranian official publicly confirmed the existence of talks with the United States on the nuclear issue. Nasser Kanaani, the spokesman of the Foreign Ministry in Tehran, said in a statement that talks are taking place, mediated by Oman, saying, “We exchanged messages with the other party.” Kanaani added that Iran “never left the negotiation table and always showed its serious readiness to conduct deep and meaningful negotiations to conclude the talks.” He also emphasized that the talks “were not secret.”
Last Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that no deal with Iran would stop its nuclear program, adding that “no agreement with Iran is binding to Israel, which will do everything it can to defend itself.”