Former Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela Elliott Abrams


Media Roundtable with Israeli Journalists
November 9, 2020

MR ABRAMS:  I am very happy to be back in Israel.  It’s not my first visit and I’ve been very pleased to see a lot of old friends and acquaintances in the government and in the IDF.  We had very useful discussions yesterday and today about Iran and the many ways in which Iran affects negatively the countries of the Middle East and makes their security and economic development much more difficult.  This is obviously a problem of great concern to the United States and we have pursued a policy over the last four years that we call the maximum pressure campaign, meant to pressure Iran to desist from the many activities it is undertaking that we think are destabilizing that include its nuclear activities, its development of a missile program, its interference in countries throughout the region, and the very great repression of the Iranian people.

We are 10 days from a commemoration – a very sad commemoration – of the ruthless suppression of the Iranian people last November, including in the Mahshahr massacre.  So it is very timely to recall that the Iranian people have, at least since 1979, been struggling for their freedom.  They continue that struggle and we are very proud to be on their side.

I’ll stop with that.

QUESTION:  So Biden administration it appears is going to be taking over in two months.  They have very different ideas about Iran.  Seems a question of not will they rejoin the nuclear deal; it seems a question of just when and under what terms, what conditions they’ll set.  How is that going to look from your standpoint?

MR ABRAMS:  I think there’s a broad agreement in the United States about the destabilization of the Middle East by Iran.  There’s no debate about the Iranian role in Lebanon, for example, and its support of Hizballah, or its support of the Houthis in Yemen, or the destabilizing activities in Iraq and the support for Shia militia groups.  There is a disagreement about the JCPOA.

I would say this:  It doesn’t really matter who is president on January 20th in the sense that there’s going to be a negotiation with Iran anyway.  That was the intention of the Trump administration, so that’s not a source of disagreement.  Whether it is possible to go back to the JCPOA remains to be seen.  The JCPOA is five years old.  The first sunset has already taken place in the eyes of many countries in the world, the arms embargo, which we have been trying to avoid through the snapback of sanctions.  There are more sunsets, as you know, built in at the eight-year level, at the 10-year level, at the 15-year level.

So five years have already gone by and Iran is not in compliance with the JCPOA and, in the last two years especially, a significant sanctions program has been implemented that includes not only nuclear sanctions but human rights sanctions and counterterrorism sanctions.

So I would only caution you that – well, maybe I can make a comparison.  If you want to go back to the World Health Organization, you just say I want to go back to the World Health Organization.  It is extremely unlikely that the World Health Organization would react by saying wait a minute, we have conditions and you owe us money.  I don’t think that going back to the JCPOA in 2021 is a simple prospect.

QUESTION:  Is what?

MR ABRAMS:  Is a simple prospect.

QUESTION:  Elliott, if I may, in the two months that this administration still has, is there any specific steps you’re going to do regard Iran – use the time before the next administration is stepping in?

MR ABRAMS:  Well, I’d make one statement that just as – I’m here as an official on an official trip.  We have an electoral system in the United States in which we have an election, and then in 50 states, state election officials certify the results of the election and they choose electors who then meet in the Electoral College and they choose the president.  Actually, CNN does not choose the president.  So —

QUESTION:  What about CNN and FOX?

MR ABRAMS:  And FOX and the AP.  Formally speaking, we wait for the official results.

But with respect to Iran, I would say we have the maximum pressure sanctions program.  If you look at September and October, you will see sanctions being put in place.  This will continue.  It will continue in November, it will continue in December, because it’s unrelated to politics, it’s unrelated to elections.  It’s the foreign policy of the United States and it is based on Iran’s conduct.  For example, when we sanction the Iranian ambassador to Iraq under counterterrorism authorities because he’s a Qods Force guy, it has nothing to do with politics.  It’s because he’s a Qods Force guy.  So those – that program of maximum pressure will continue.

Now, part of the answer to your question is if you want to know everything that the U.S. does between now and January, you have to tell me exactly what Iran does between now and January, which is impossible to do.  So I can’t give a full answer to that question.  But certainly with respect to the sanctions program, we don’t – this program is not undertaken from one day to the next because there are legal standards.  Both in the State Department and in the Treasury Department, there are lawyers who have to see is this a sufficient justification for sanctions.  So this is a long-term program.  If a target is sanctioned on, let’s say, November 1st, there are weeks and months of activity, of work, of preparation behind it.  So this continues now.

QUESTION:  What you’re going to do from now until the change in government is reversible?  I mean, the Biden administration can reverse it?

MR ABRAMS:  I guess I’d say that legally, I think it is correct that a president, any president, has the right to reverse an executive action that he took or that a previous president took.  Whether it’s advisable, whether it is politically possible is a different question.  And some of the sanctions are not connected to the JCPOA or the – Iran’s nuclear activities.  Again, they are human rights sanctions or they are counterterrorism sanctions.

So can they be reversed?  They can, in theory, be reversed, but it’s hard for me to see how a president, any president, would really do that without a change in Iran’s behavior.  And Iran is the great state sponsor of terrorism, the greatest state – largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world.

QUESTION:  Sir, if I can come back to Ariel’s question, there was a report in Axios yesterday that the administration has actually already started working weeks ago on additional sanctions.  There were talk of new sanctions every week from now until January 20th.  It has been assumed that your visit here and your talks with the prime minister and the defense minister have something to do with that.  Can you tell us a little bit more about whether there is a new massive sanctions program that’s about to start?

MR ABRAMS:  That is – yeah, that is not correct.  There is a continuation of a sanctions program that we have been doing for two years at least.  I mean, actually U.S. sanctions on Iran go back to 1979, to the hostage taking at the embassy.  We are not changing the sanctions program.

QUESTION:  It’s not being intensified?

MR ABRAMS:  It is not being intensified.  It is being continued.  My trip here was, as you might expect, planned weeks ago.  So the trip is also not related to the U.S. election.  It’s related to the fact that Israel and the United States – this is not my only stop, as you know – but Israel and many other countries in the Middle East have great concern about Iran and its activities in the region.  So that’s the subject of the discussion.  The sanctions program will continue.  We have one president at a time.  And this maximum pressure campaign will continue.

QUESTION:  But is there a sense of urgency because the result of the election, that maybe there is something that you can do during those two-and-a-half months that can change the course of things?

MR ABRAMS:  I wouldn’t call it a sense of urgency.  I’d call it a continued determination.

QUESTION:  Can you tell us a little bit about what you heard is the meetings here?  What you’re going to do in Saudi Arabia and the other countries?

MR ABRAMS:  Well, there’s a lot to talk about.

QUESTION:  Choose one thing.

MR ABRAMS:  (Laughter.)  There are differences in the subject matter, of course, from country to country.  You would anticipate, for example, more discussion of Yemen in Saudi Arabia than in Israel.  Each country has its own focuses.  But what are the common themes?  The nuclear file, missiles, and what I guess we’d call regional activities: Iran’s support for Hizballah, Iran’s support for the Houthis, what is Iran doing in Iraq in supporting the Shia militia groups, Iran’s support of the Assad regime in Syria.

We discussed all of these today.  We discussed the IAEA and the status of its investigation of, most recently, two sites in Iran and forthcoming meetings at the IAEA.

QUESTION:  Do you find their activities as useful, the —


QUESTION:  Mm-hmm.

MR ABRAMS:  Yes, I think that’s a universal view that the activities of the IAEA are very important as a —

QUESTION:  Better than they were before?

MR ABRAMS:  Yes, I think – I don’t – in the countries I talk to in the Middle East or in Europe, I don’t hear complaints about the IAEA’s activities.  There were complaints about Iran’s efforts to stop those activities, to interfere —

QUESTION:  To stop them or to give access?

MR ABRAMS:  Yeah, to delay access, to deny access, of course.  But we’re – we are strong supporters of the IAEA and Director General Grossi, and we think they perform an invaluable task in their safeguards activities with respect to Iran.

QUESTION:  Did the IAEA already visit the new building in Natanz?

MR ABRAMS:  This is an announcement that came after the visit to the two sites, and it is a little bit more difficult nowadays to travel.  I don’t think they have visited that – I mean, they’ve obviously been to Natanz.  Whether they have visited this newly announced site is a different question.  I’m not sure of the answer.

QUESTION:  What would you recommend the next administration before the negotiation with Iran on a new JCPOA?  And do you think that the Iranians will agree to new conditions or they will say this is the agreement and no changes?

MR ABRAMS:  So you’re asking me to speak for Iran here and read minds.  What do the Iranians want?  The Iranians want anything they can get away with, right?  They want the sanctions lifted because the sanctions are having a very significant impact on their economy.  We know this from the drop in the value of the rial, we know this from inflation in Iran, we know this from the extraordinary drop in their exports of petroleum.

So they want those sanctions lifted, and they will pay the smallest possible price to get them lifted.  I mean, that’s their goal.  We have a lot of leverage on Iran – we being the United States – as a result of this pressure.  So our view is that that leverage on Iran should be used, not discarded.  And I think that using that leverage should be possible to get Iran to stop doing a number of the things that it is doing, including on the – to begin with, on the nuclear – when it comes to the nuclear activities and the ways in which it is in violation of the JCPOA.  And it clearly is.  There’s no dispute about that.  So I think the critical thing is to use the leverage we have in every negotiation with Iran.

QUESTION:  So you are optimistic that even Biden’s administration can improve the agreement?

MR ABRAMS:  The JCPOA was a very controversial agreement in the United States, which is why it was never submitted to the U.S. Senate.  It was never submitted because the votes were not there.  I testified recently in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Ben Cardin was there, and Senator Robert Menendez, who is the ranking Democrat.  They were against the JCPOA.  The Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, was against the JCPOA.  So it was a very controversial agreement from the very start.

Am I optimistic?  I am, actually, optimistic if the pressure that the United States has because of the success of the sanctions campaign is utilized.  I think the Iranians are in a situation in which, or let’s say the regime is in a situation in which they really need these sanctions lifted, and if we demand changes in their conduct, I don’t think they have another option.

QUESTION:  But the saying is that the U.S. is putting sanctions, I think, on Cuba for dozens of dozens of years, and so with other countries.  And regarding Iran, it’s now I think about 12, even more if you – from – it’s been 16 years from the beginning of Obama – it’s only 12 years, okay, from the Obama administration.  In other words, and the policies that this administration made of maximum pressure, as you said, bottom line, they go on with all the activities you mentioned.

MR ABRAMS:  Yes.  I don’t —

QUESTION:  So this may be assumptions?  (Inaudible.)

MR ABRAMS:  I don’t agree with that.  First of all, Cuba was always rescued by – first, Cuba was rescued by the Soviet Union, and its economy virtually collapsed when the Soviet Union collapsed.  And then it was rescued by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela – free oil.  And they still get free oil from Venezuela.  I don’t see people giving free anything to Iran, first.

Second, in the case of Cuba, there wasn’t an embargo or heavy sanctions by the United States only.  What do you see in Cuba?  French hotels, Spanish hotels.  The sanctions campaign has been very successful in the case of Iran because, in fact, foreign companies – that is, outside of the United States – have complied with it.  And it’s one of the most interesting things.  We had an argument in the United States in 2015 and since, but especially 2018:  Can unilateral sanctions by the United States really have any effect?  And the answer is yes.  The reason for that is we announce these sanctions, and foreign ministers in many countries say, “We are against this and we will not go along with it.”  It doesn’t matter.  Because foreign ministers don’t decide whether to comply with sanctions.  Bankers decide, company presidents decide, and their lawyers decide.  And when they say to their lawyers, “What do I do about this,” the lawyers say, “Are you crazy?”

So we see this.  We see, and that’s why the sanctions have had such an enormous impact even though they are, for the most part, unilateral.

QUESTION:  But it didn’t stop Iran at all —

MR ABRAMS:  Wait.  Well, okay.


MR ABRAMS:  Okay.  Second, the sanctions are effective even though they are unilateral.

Third, sanctions are cumulative.  If I announce sanctions on Monday, what is the impact on Tuesday?  Nothing.  A sanctions campaign is a cumulative campaign.  When you have the beginning of a maximum pressure campaign, we don’t have maximum pressure.  You start, and you add.  And that’s what we’ve been doing over these two years.

Now, I believe we have reached the point at which Iran knows it has to seek relief from sanctions.  The question really is:  What is the price they have to pay?  And I think if the United States takes a strong position, the Iranians will have no choice.  They will have to make significant changes in their behavior.  The cumulative pressure is now very high.  We see it in the Iranian economy.

And remember, we are also talking about a country where the population hates this regime.  We saw that in 2009.  We saw it last year.  So as the economy comes under more and more pressure, the regime understands that this could have significant political impact inside the country.

So I think in any situation like this, you build pressure and you build pressure and build pressure, and then you use it.  And that was the Biden plan and that was the Trump plan – to enter negotiations with Iran, to use the pressure.  And I think if the pressure is maintained and used, you will see a good outcome.

QUESTION:  May I ask two questions?  Number one, do you think we’re right now at the situation where the regime is under as much pressure as it was back in 2013-’14 when negotiations over the JCPOA started, when there was an international sanctions regime carried by pretty much everybody, including the Europeans and the Japanese as well?  So are we at the same stage, or can we still go on for how long in your assessment?

MR ABRAMS:  Well, how long can they go on is a question that I can’t answer.  From their point of view, their question has got to be:  What will the United States do?  “How long must we go on,” would be their question.  I think the pressure is much greater than in 2013.

It is true that European companies and banks were part of a program back then, but they are now.  I mean —

QUESTION:  They’re looking for all kinds of ways to continue doing business.  At the time they didn’t.

MR ABRAMS:  They looked.  You look at the major – what is the activity of the major European banks in Iran?  What is the activity of the major European manufacturers in Iran, or Japanese?  It’s not zero, but boy it has been very significantly reduced and we know exactly why.

QUESTION:  Since 2018?

MR ABRAMS:  Since 2013 to 2020.

QUESTION:  But then many rushed back in in 2015 and then they left.

MR ABRAMS:  And they learned a lesson.


MR ABRAMS:  The lesson was be careful.  And I would – because you never know who’s the next American president, and you never know when the sanctions are going to be turned on.  And we have cases, as you know, of, first of all, people who rushed in and lost a lot of money, cases where people rushed in where they shouldn’t have rushed in and paid big fines to the United States Government.  So again, if you’re trying to manage risk, you think about your investments, you think about how much money you’ll make, you think about the risk to your reputation but also of being fined by the United States Government.

I think that’s why we are where we are, because they have left because the sanctions are effective.  I think they’re clearly much more effective today than in 2013.

QUESTION:  Mr. Abrams, sir, regarding the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA, some will say that after this Iran basically increased its efforts towards a nuclear bomb, tripled the uranium which is being enriched nowadays.  How do you see it?

MR ABRAMS:  Well, they’re trying a form of blackmail: lift the sanctions or we will enrich some more uranium, or we will build some more centrifuges.

QUESTION:  But they already began it.

MR ABRAMS:  Yes.  Yes, in reaction to the economic pressure on them.  So the question really is whether you use the pressure that you have built up now to get them to stop and reverse those activities.  And I think it is absolutely possible to do that because I think the regime is under very significant pressure.  Add to the, let’s say, pure economic pressure, they had an election.

QUESTION:  So now is it time to approach Iran?

QUESTION:  When did they have an election?

MR ABRAMS:  They had an election in June, and you have over the next four years the question of the Supreme Leader’s health and always potentially a succession.  So I think there’s not – it’s not a question of approaching Iran.  It’s a question of saying to Iran:  You want the sanctions lifted, you know what you need to do.

QUESTION:  And I wonder if the – Trump’s administration will deliver this kind of message nowadays.

MR ABRAMS:  Well, this has been, I think, a very clear message.  The sanctions were imposed for a reason.  The sanctions can be lifted for a reason, namely an agreement that changes Iran’s behavior.

QUESTION:  But the administration can be more vocal about it in the next two and a half months?

MR ABRAMS:  Well, you have to ask the question about what Iran wants to do.  And it’s been clear for some time, I think, that Iran was hoping it would not have to negotiate with President Trump.

QUESTION:  The question is would President Trump now, in the time that he has remaining in office, would he reach out to them actively and try to make a deal before leaving?  He said my first call – the first call to me after the elections will be from Iran, and I don’t see it impossible for him to try to make a deal now.  He likes to make deals and he makes them quickly, so is that at all being thought about?

MR ABRAMS:  I’d say two things.  First, I repeat, officially the election is not over until the states certify it and the Electoral College meets.  I think as I said before, that even if you have only one immediate goal, which is to return to the JCPOA, it’s not a simple proposition.  If you have a broader goal, which is an agreement that includes these other problems – missiles, regional conduct – it’s an even more complex negotiation.

Now think about the JCPOA.  Think about the –

QUESTION:  The time it took.

MR ABRAMS:  The time it took, the number of pages.  You remember the annexes.  That’s —

QUESTION:  So basically you’re saying it’s impossible to make a deal?

MR ABRAMS:  It’s not impossible if the Iranians were ready to do what they need to do.   But I think no matter who is president, to make a deal in a few weeks that includes all of this is extremely difficult.  I won’t say impossible; it’s extremely difficult.

What were the criticisms of the JCPOA back in 2015?  The sunsets were too short, they needed to be longer, nothing about missiles, nothing about all of this regional conduct.  Negotiating an agreement that would cover all of that, let’s say a comprehensive agreement – really, how long does that take?

QUESTION:  So the Trump administration, if indeed it lost the elections, failed to produce success with Iran.  You can make the argument that you have – that you set up a future success, but we don’t know where this is going.  It might just set up another future failure.

MR ABRAMS:  Yes, I don’t actually agree with that, because again, the purpose of the maximum pressure campaign was to build enough pressure on Iran so that it would have to change its behavior.  And we believe that it would have to change its behavior and will have to change its behavior if the pressure is kept on and utilized in the negotiations.  So I would really disagree with the notion that the campaign has failed.  I think it has succeeded.

If you look at the finances of the Hamas and of Hizballah, you see them getting a quite reduced amount from Iran.  For years and years there’s been talk about a maritime agreement between Israel and Lebanon.  Why did Hizballah permit this now?  Why did Hizballah permit it?  Clearly, the Lebanese Government would not have been – gone into this negotiation if Nasrallah had said flatly, “No.”  So why now?  I think partly because of the pressure on Hizballah.

QUESTION:  In a pessimistic scenario where Russia and China continue to keep Iran afloat as they’ve been doing almost by themselves despite Europe not helping them out, which you were right about – unilateral sanctions – if you had to pick, what was the most important one or two things to get from Iran in a new deal, whether it’s stopping them on advanced centrifuges, which was not a hole that was closed in the JCPOA, whether it’s the sunset provision, or ballistic missiles?  What do you think is the one or two most important – the people have a list of 12 things —

MR ABRAMS:  Right.

QUESTION:  But let’s say 12 with China and Russia helping them is not realistic; if you had to pick a couple, what do you think is most critical?

MR ABRAMS:  That’s a very difficult question.  Certainly, the ballistic missile program is of great, great importance, even in the short run, to Europe and to Israel and to other friends and partners and allies of the United States between Europe and the Middle East.  The sunsets obviously were much, much too short.  We – for years and years people used to talk to me about how – I mean, I’m going back to the Reagan administration – people used to talk about how the situation in the West Bank is unsustainable.  That started in 1967, so change comes slowly, and to do an agreement with Iran, as happened in 2015, in which things start to change in five years, was one of the main criticisms of the agreement.  So the time period’s – it was also the view of most critics of the agreement that perhaps the single greatest failure was saying that Iran could enrich uranium under the —

QUESTION:  Do you think they’d actually negotiate over that with Russia and China backing them?

MR ABRAMS:  Who knows if Russia and China would continue to back them?  Look, no one wants Iran to get a nuclear weapon.  I do not think that Russia and China want Iran to get a nuclear weapon.  We know – now, Iran obviously claims it is not seeking a nuclear weapon, but we know how countries behave when they actually don’t seek a nuclear weapon.  We know how countries behave when they want nuclear energy only.  It’s not how Iran behaves.  There have been many, many proposals over the years about how you could do an agreement where nuclear fuel is supplied and spent fuel is taken out, long discussions of this, including with Russia.  So there are – I guess I’d put it this way:  I think we can imagine what Iran wants in an agreement.  The question is really one for us, for the United States, for the Europeans, and to a lesser extent, for Russian and China – what they get out of an agreement.  The question is how strong will we be, how strong a position will we take, and I think Iran will have to make very significant concessions if the pressure on them is utilized.

QUESTION:  The Obama administration officials who I spoke to about why did they break or cut the deal when they did —

MR ABRAMS:  Right.

QUESTION:  — said they did not think they could keep Russia and China in any – they actually had Russia and China together on the sanctions at the time, and they said that they went as far as they thought they could go with Russia and China, and any farther Russia and China would be out and they wouldn’t be able to succeed.

MR ABRAMS:  Yeah.  And – well, look, I was one of the people on the outside of the administration who thought it was very poorly negotiated.  There were many European negotiators who thought it was very poorly negotiated.  When I hear people say, “This was the absolute end, we could not have gotten” – that’s not what I hear from some of the Europeans who believe that a better agreement was possible.

QUESTION:  Can I change topic a little bit —


QUESTION:  — and take us back to, I guess, December of 2012 or ‘13?  I was a young reporter and everybody in Israel talked about the military option and a preemptive strike and these kind of things.


QUESTION:  And I am sad to report that I am afraid this kind of talk will come back.  As you say, the pressure campaign in the meantime is going to continue.  Sanctions will not be lifted until there’s an agreement.  This will take time.  In the meantime Iran is going to play hard to get and is going to continue enriching and getting closer and closer to breakout time.


QUESTION:  So if we get to that line, there will be inevitably the question of will Israel feel it needs to strike preemptively.  I wonder if you can tell us anything about that discussion that I assume took place between you and the prime minister and the defense minister.

MR ABRAMS:  No.  The only thing I would say is that I think now five presidents of the United States consecutively have said we will not permit Iran to get a nuclear weapon.  That’s also the Israeli position.  I – not only would that be the position of the next president, I tell you that whoever’s elected in 2024 will have the same position.  The United States will not permit Iran to get a nuclear weapon.  I don’t speak —

QUESTION:  The question is whether the U.S., whether the president would give green lights to Israel to do what it feels it needs to do if Iran came close to breakout.

MR ABRAMS:  I – as we used to say in the Bush White House, we are not traffic cops.  We don’t give red lights and green lights and yellow lights.

QUESTION:  We saw what happened with the Syrian reactor, so – in the Bush administration.

MR ABRAMS:  And you think what happened?  The United States —

QUESTION:  When Israel took out the Syrian reactor.


QUESTION:  Okay – that was under the Bush administration —

MR ABRAMS:  They made it very —

QUESTION:  — when no red light was given.  So —

MR ABRAMS:  I was – yes, I was there in the White House.  I was there during the conversation between Olmert and Bush, and we made it very clear we don’t give traffic lights.  Israel —

QUESTION:  No, I’m sure.  But why am I bringing this up?  Because I’m sure that the prime minister brought this very conversation up when you were —

MR ABRAMS:  I’m not talking about my conversation with the prime minister.  I would just say the relationship between the United States and Israel is not one in which we play traffic policemen.  The United States believes that Israel will act responsibly to protect its national security as we do.

QUESTION:  Do you think a Biden administration, if it were to come into power on January 20th, would have the same kind of attitude?  Or are you afraid that somebody like Biden would say maybe don’t attack?

MR ABRAMS:  I won’t answer that.  I’ll just say, “No comment.”

QUESTION:  How close do you think the Iranians – to a nuclear bomb – from breakout?

MR ABRAMS:  Well, you hear different numbers.  Every country’s intelligence service studies this question, and every one has a different number.  And in each case, the number is classified.  And it depends —

QUESTION:  But within the U.S. and Israel have a different number?

MR ABRAMS:  I think every country has a slightly different number at least.  Because you have to ask, also, what are you – what is the question being asked?  That is, how long would it take to get a requisite amount of enriched uranium for a bomb?  Or are you asking how long it would take to get a requisite amount of enriched uranium to have a bomb to test and then a bomb to use?  Or are you asking how long would it take to have a usable nuclear weapon, a deliverable nuclear weapon?

So everybody is making different estimates, but they’re also asking different questions.  So the American answer is classified.

MODERATOR:  Mindful of the clock —


MODERATOR:  — perhaps one last question?

QUESTION:  Can you make – I thought maybe we’ll throw in a non-Iran related question at the end about the —

QUESTION:  Not really.

QUESTION:  Other non-Iran related questions?


QUESTION:  Okay, I’m sorry.

QUESTION:  About the Abraham Accords, is there anything new that you think is going to happen in the coming weeks, anything concrete?  Or do you think this has played out for the time being?

MR ABRAMS:  Well, I certainly don’t think it has played out for the medium run and the long run.  Because what we’re seeing here is a very significant, even historic development, which is the realization on the part of the Sunni world of significant and deep common security interests and economic interests with Israel.  And obviously, we’ve seen it now with three countries.  There are other countries that obviously share this view, but for varying political, domestic political reasons, they aren’t there yet.  I think – I can’t tell the timetable, but more clearly will come.  Others will participate in less visible ways, but they will also move.

QUESTION:  Even if Biden is president?

MR ABRAMS:  Yes.  Because this is – to me, this – these new agreements – the new agreements and also the relationships that Israel has with other Arab countries that have not yet been willing to normalize relations.  And as you know, those exist, and in some cases they are quite active and fruitful.  They all reflect a very significant change in the Middle East, and they reflect the danger from Iran.  So I think this is – this is going to continue, and it’s a very significant change.  I mean, if you think of the Middle East – I was going to say since 1948, but you can actually go back to the First World War period, and the attitude of Arab leaders to the establishment of a Jewish state.  And that continues, and as you have all written, the significance of Sudan joining is that Khartoum is where the Three Nos were actually agreed in the Arab League.

I think this is unstoppable.  I think that it will continue – some countries in public, some countries not so public, but I think it is an important change.  And it is an important change that reflects the very dangerous role of Iran, but it is an important change that reflects Israel’s new relations with its Arab neighbors.

It’s a good note to – good, optimistic note to end on.

QUESTION:  You didn’t say nothing about Venezuela.  You are the representative for Venezuela, too.

MR ABRAMS:  Well —

QUESTION:  You didn’t ask.

QUESTION:  We didn’t ask.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Who is —

QUESTION:  May I follow up about the last sentence?


QUESTION:  Or the last topic.  Would you say that being soft, that U.S. being soft with Iran might risk the peace agreements, those normalization peace agreements, or might risk the peace of the Middle East?

MR ABRAMS:  I think that the Abraham Accords reflect Iran’s dangerous conduct, but they also do reflect the willingness of the United States and Israel to stand up against Iran.  So I think if American policy changes, you will slow down this historical development.  I think if the United States stopped urging Arab countries to move in that direction, you would slow it down.  You would not stop it, because it is so obviously in their own interest.  They don’t do this because they decided after all the Hebrew Bible really is terrific.  They do it because it’s in their national security interest and their economic interest.  And it is, and that’s really the fundamental that is pushing them in that direction.

QUESTION:  Wendy Sherman, Susan Rice, Michelle Flournoy – who is the big hope to be tough in the Iran negotiations?

MR ABRAMS:  The only thing I would say about that is the Iran negotiations that resulted in the JCPOA essentially took place between 2013 and 2015.  Now it’s almost 2021; it’s a different Middle East.  And due to the U.S. sanctions, it’s a much different economic situation in Iran.  So I think that – I hope that will be reflected in U.S.-Iranian relations no matter who is president.


QUESTION:  Thinking about tough and soft, do you think that if Biden administration will be too soft with the Iranians it will increase the chance of – that Israel will strike Iran unitarily?

MR ABRAMS:  Oh, that’s a great question to say “no comment.”  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

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