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Israeli foreign minister slams EU’s Borrell over Iran outreach

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid lashed out at EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell over a visit to Tehran aimed at reviving negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel has long opposed and sought to undermine in any way possible.

As a courtesy, Borrell reached out to Lapid ahead of his visit to Tehran, where on Saturday Borrell said he had secured an agreement to resume talks.

But Lapid’s response was less than appreciative, and accused Borrell of disregarding recent accusations that Iran had been plotting to kill Israeli civilians in Turkey. EU officials, however, said that Borrell reached out to Lapid precisely to consult on all of these points; and in his public remarks after the meetings in Tehran, Borrell noted that he had raised them with the Iranians.

In Brussels, the Israeli criticism was viewed as part of an effort to sabotage the Iran nuclear negotiations.

“Borrell sent a message to Yair Lapid before the trip to Tehran in which he described his attempt to bring Iran back to the nuclear agreement negotiations, and to remove the last obstacles,” a diplomat briefed on the exchange told POLITICO. “In response to the message, Lapid replied to Borrell that his position was very disappointing, especially after the removal of the cameras and the condemnation [by the] IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] board.”

Lapid told Borrell “this is a strategic mistake that sends the wrong message to Iran,” the diplomat said, adding: “Talking about the great potential in the Iranian context, while Iran is trying to murder Israeli citizens throughout the world and especially in Turkey, indicates a worrying lack of care for the lives of Israeli citizens.”

A spokesperson for Borrell declined to comment on the exchange of messages, noting a long-standing policy of refusing to discuss leaked diplomatic communications.

But an EU official noted that Borrell traveled to Iran in his facilitator role, as the neutral coordinator of negotiations, and that he had succeeded in securing the agreement of the Iranians to resume “proximity talks” with U.S. negotiators in coming days.

The official confirmed that Israel was informed of Borrell’s plans ahead of his trip. The official acknowledged that “there are extremely concerning issues” including the targeting of Israeli citizens and the detention by Iran of EU citizens, but that Borrell had raised these concerns, including about Israel’s own security, directly with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian. Borrell has often said that restoring compliance with the nuclear deal by all sides would be good for global stability, and good for the Middle East region, Israel included.

Borrell, in remarks to reporters at the end of his visit on Saturday, acknowledged that Iran’s reintegration into the global economy would help deal with the spike in prices of oil and natural gas that has resulted from Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“This war is going to jeopardize a lot of things — it is creating price increases on energy and food. In many countries, mainly in Africa, this will create social unrest,” Borrell said. “So, the more supply of oil, the better for the energy prices. In order to fight against price increases, you have to increase the supply,” he said.

“So, the deal would be good from the point of view of crisis stabilization on energy. It would be good from the point of view of increasing security. It will be good from the point of view of Iran becoming a member of the international community, more active, participating in trade,” Borrell said.

The war, Borrell said, has made restoration of the nuclear deal “more necessary.” 

Some Western officials, however, believe that trading reliance on Russia for reliance on Iran would be a grave, historic mistake.

Israel views the Iran nuclear deal as a real and present danger, and has long worked to torpedo the agreement while addressing its own fears about Iran developing a nuclear weapon by allegedly assassinating Iranian scientists and other officials and by destroying critical infrastructure.

Israel also flexed some muscle recently by playing host to a visit from Rafael Grossi, the director general of the IAEA, and by publicizing information showing that Iran had stolen confidential IAEA documents. The visit drew irate condemnation from Tehran, as the Iranians accused Grossi of bias.

Grossi has said little about the visit beyond making the point that he urged Israel to sign the global Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and that his job requires him to visit all countries.

Borrell, at the close of his meetings in Iran, claimed success. “To summarize,” he said. “The negotiations were stalled — no prospects of restarting — and thanks to these discussions, in the coming days they will start again, with close contacts between the United States and the Iranians.”

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