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State Dept Expands Iran Team Days After Israel Asked Biden to Abandon Nuke Talks

Israeli prime minister's fears about new deal rebuffed in high-level meetings

President Joe Biden meets with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Oval Office. (Photo by Sarahbeth Maney-Pool/Getty Images)
• September 2, 2021 2:20 pm

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The Biden administration is expanding the team dedicated to renegotiating the Iran deal, just days after Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett urged the United States to back out of negotiations, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.

Dan Shapiro, the Obama administration's ambassador to Israel, is now working as an adviser on the Iran portfolio, the State Department confirmed to the Free Beacon. Shapiro is "the first of what we plan to be a small group of part-time advisers" who will work to solidify a new nuclear deal, the official said. The move demonstrates the administration's commitment to push forward with talks as Iran demands full-scale sanctions relief.

Shapiro's hiring signals the administration has no intention of heeding Israel's warnings. Senior Biden administration officials told Bennett during his first U.S. visit that they will not back down from efforts to negotiate a return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, according to a U.S. official familiar with the meetings.

"Certain requests were made regarding a return to the Iran deal during the recent visit by the Israeli prime minister, but the current administration has tunnel vision on this," the official told the Free Beacon.

In meetings with President Joe Biden and top State Department officials, Bennett expressed concerns that the ongoing talks will provide Iran with economic sanctions relief and bolster the regime as it faces a cash crunch that has sparked nationwide protests. The Israelis fear a new deal will embolden Iran and its terror proxy groups operating on the country's borders. These concerns have been amplified since the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan and reportedly moved leftover U.S. military equipment into the Islamic Republic.

A State Department spokesman told the Free Beacon that Shapiro will join Iran envoy Robert Malley's negotiating team as it works to secure a new deal with Iran. America's Iran policy "will benefit greatly from the participation of a diplomat of his caliber and experience," the spokesman added.

Shapiro's tenure in the Obama administration was mired in controversy, including allegations he assisted in election interference meant to undermine then-Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Free Beacon reported at the time that a congressional investigation discovered emails it requested about the campaign had been destroyed by the State Department.

Biden and Bennett discussed the Iran threat at their meeting last week. The State Department, however, would not say whether the Israeli concerns about a new deal would factor into the administration's approach.

"The president made clear his commitment to ensure Iran never develops a nuclear weapon," the spokesman told the Free Beacon. Biden and Bennett "reviewed steps to deter and contain Iran's dangerous regional behavior. They reiterated their commitments to work constructively and deepen cooperation to address all aspects of Israel's security against Iran and other threats."

The official said the State Department does "not have further comment" on the contents or outcome of those talks.