U.S. and Israel hold Iran strategy session on nuclear deal decision

As nuclear negotiations in Vienna get closer to a decision point, the U.S. and Israel held strategic talks on Iran Wednesday led by their respective national security advisers, Israeli and U.S. officials tell me.

Why it matters: At a time when the White House’s attention is largely focused on Ukraine, the talks show Iran is still a high priority and the Biden administration thinks it’s important to spend time on consultations with Israel.

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  • Israeli and U.S. officials say the secure video conference included discussions of the state of play in Vienna and the strategy moving forward.

  • During the talks, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan emphasized that while the U.S. is committed to diplomacy, it is preparing other options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon should negotiations fail, the White House said in a statement.

  • The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment for this story.

State of play: Biden administration officials have set the end of January or beginning of February as an unofficial deadline for the talks, in large part because they believe Iran’s nuclear advances will soon render the 2015 deal ineffective.

  • The progress in Vienna has been modest and very slow, but Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian floated the possibility of direct talks with the U.S. earlier this week — rather than the current indirect format — if necessary to secure “a good deal.”

  • That would be a significant change in the Iranian position. State Department spokesperson Ned Price noted Tuesday that the Biden administration had been pushing for direct talks for a year.

  • Price said more efficient communication was needed because “we have precious little time left.”

What’s next: Senior Israeli officials tell me that even after today’s talks, they remain concerned that the Ukraine crisis will take international attention away from the Iran nuclear crisis and make it harder for the U.S. and Russia to cooperate on this issue.

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