(CNSNews.com) – The State Department said on Tuesday it welcomed an unprecedented summit between Israel, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates.
Among the shared concerns that brought the three Mideast U.S. allies together was how a revived Iran nuclear deal, which the Biden administration is working to achieve, could strengthen a common foe.
Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi hosted Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Emirati Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed at Sharm el-Sheikh in the Sinai. The UAE normalized relations with Israel under the Trump administration-brokered Abraham Accords, four decades after Egypt became the first Arab country to recognize Israel, in 1979.
Israeli reports focused on what appeared to be an attempt to form a united front against the Iranian regime, amid a late holdup in talks in Vienna that are widely believed to be close to an agreement on salvaging the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal.
Reported U.S. plans to remove Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTO) – a key demand by the regime – have set off alarm bells in the region.
Even before it secures an anticipated major financial boost once U.S. sanctions are lifted, Tehran’s support for terror proxies is causing upheaval, not least of all in the Arabian Peninsula, where the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen is fighting against Emirati and Saudi troops.
The Houthis have stepped up missile and drone attacks on the Saudis and Emiratis in recent years.
Last January three civilians were killed and six injured in a drone strike claimed by the Houthis targeting Abu Dhabi international airport and a nearby oil facility, and last month a Houthi attack injured a dozen civilians in an airport in Saudi Arabia.
Citing an unnamed Israeli official, the KAN public broadcaster reported that Iran and the nuclear agreement had featured in the Sharm el-Sheikh talks, as well as a proposal by Bennett to develop regional defenses against missile and drone attacks by Iran and its proxies.
“It looks like there is an Arab-Israeli axis emerging basically to counterbalance Iranian power in the region, and likely because they probably don’t fully agree with the U.S. position on this issue,” a reporter commented during Tuesday’s State Department briefing, asking whether the U.S. had been in touch with the three governments about the meeting.
“We’re in regular touch with each of these governments,” replied department spokesman Ned Price. “We welcome the trilateral summit between Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel.”
On the question of differences with the U.S. over Iran, however, Price said that “countries around the world, including our Gulf partners, have recognized that with Iran’s nuclear program out of the box, we do have a viable option to put it back in the box in the form of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA.”
Asked again about the notion that Israel, Egypt, and the UAE were looking into “the possibility of creating a new alliance against Iran,” Price said it was up to other countries to explain the aims of their alliances.
“What I will say broadly is that it is no secret – and in fact we have made quite clear – that we are facing a shared challenge and, in some ways, a shared threat from Tehran,” he said, citing Iran’s funding and support for terrorist groups and proxies “that are creating a much more volatile, unstable region.”
“We will continue to partner closely with our partners in the Gulf, with our partners throughout the Middle East, to push back on Iran’s malign activity in whatever form it takes.”
‘Empty promises from terrorists’
For decades the U.S. government has described the Iranian regime as the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism, and the Trump administration in 2019 designated the IRGC as an FTO – the first time a state entity had been added to the blacklist.
Late last week, Bennett and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in a strong-worded joint statement said delisting the IRGC would be “an insult to the victims,” including American troops, Iranian, Syrian and Lebanon civilians, and Jews and Christians.
“We find it hard to believe that the IRGC’s designation as a terrorist organization will be removed in exchange for a promise not to harm Americans,” they said, alluding to reports that the U.S. may meet the regime’s delisting demand in return for a commitment to regional de-escalation.
“The fight against terrorism is a global one, a shared mission of the entire world,” said Bennett and Lapid. “We believe that the United States will not abandon its closest allies in exchange for empty promises from terrorists."
The State Department has not confirmed reports about the IRGC delisting, declining to discuss “remaining issues precisely because we are at a very delicate stage” in the talks.
Senate Republicans have warned the Biden administration that any deal concluded with Iran that is not submitted to Congress for approval will not survive.
“The Biden administration has continued its pursuit of a deal with Iran despite objections from our Middle East partners and legitimate oversight concerns from both chambers of Congress,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) said on Tuesday.
“Reports out of Vienna are unsettling at best, and I’m appalled at the concessions this administration is considering to placate the Iranian regime.”
Risch cited reports indicating that a deal could provide the regime with up to $130 billion in sanctions relief, relieve sanctions against terrorists and human rights violators, and delist the IRGC.