WASHINGTON -- The United States and Israel said Wednesday that they are exploring a "Plan B" for dealing with Iran if the Islamic Republic does not return in good faith to negotiations to salvage the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said discussions between their two countries have begun on "other options" should Iran reject an offer to come back into compliance with the agreement if the U.S. rejoins it.
They did not elaborate on what those options might be, but there are a wide range of nondiplomatic options that could be considered, such as stepped-up sanctions and covert or military actions. A priority of President Joe Biden's administration has been to revive the deal, and abandoning that goal would be a blow to its foreign policy objectives.
The remarks were a rare acknowledgment by the U.S. that it is looking at what to do in the event that diplomacy with Iran fails. Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement in 2018. Israel has never been a party to the deal, and its former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a vocal opponent of the agreement negotiated by the Obama administration.
Blinken and Lapid made their remarks during a joint news conference at the State Department with the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates. All three agreed to try to expand on the so-called Abraham Accords, the Trump-era agreements that normalized relations between Israel and the UAE and other Arab states.
Iran has hinted that it's ready to return to indirect negotiations with the U.S. in Vienna but has not committed to a date. At the same time, Iran has also continued to blow through limits on its nuclear activities that had been constrained by the deal.
Blinken reiterated that the window for Iran to return to the agreement is closing, but he again declined to give a date at which it would be too late. Lapid raised anew Israel's warnings that it will act, with military force if necessary, to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
"There are moments when nations must use force to protect the world from evil," Lapid said. "If a terror regime is going to acquire a nuclear weapon, we must act. We must make clear that the civilized world won't allow it. If the Iranians don't believe the world is serious about stopping them, they will race to the bomb."
Lapid met Tuesday in Washington with Vice President Kamala Harris as well as Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, to convey Israel's concerns about the U.S. rejoining the nuclear deal and restoring sanctions relief.
Those concerns appear to have struck a chord within the administration, which is loath to appear less than supportive of Israel. Before Blinken and Lapid spoke, the administration's special envoy for Iran negotiations, Robert Malley, made similar comments about exploring paths beyond diplomacy with Iran.
"We have to prepare for a world where Iran doesn't have constraints on its nuclear program, and we have to consider options for dealing with that," Malley said at a virtual event hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Wednesday.
"We will be prepared to adjust to a different reality in which we have to deal with all options to address Iran's nuclear program if it's not prepared to come back," he said. "There is every possibility that Iran will choose a different path, and we need to coordinate with Israel and other partners in the region."
Malley said he would be traveling soon to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar to discuss those options.
Blinken, Lapid and Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed also discussed the way ahead in Israeli-Arab relations after the sealing of the Abraham Accords just over a year ago. Bin Zayed said he would soon be visiting Israel, reciprocating a visit Lapid made to Abu Dhabi in June.
"I look forward to seeing you in Israel soon," he said to Lapid.
Lapid responded: "In Israel, the door is open to you. My wife is looking forward to having you over for dinner."
All three ministers expressed a desire to expand the Abraham Accords and announced the creation of two new working groups: one that will look at religious co-existence and another that will focus on water and energy.
Bin Zayed also said he hoped that broader Arab-Israeli rapprochement could energize long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
Blinken reaffirmed the Biden administration's commitment to a two-state solution being the best way to ensure the long-term survival of Israel as a democratic and Jewish nation as well as meet Palestinian aspirations to have a country of their own.