The US has held back-channel talks with Iran in recent days to warn the country against escalating the conflict in Israel, as Israeli forces prepare an expected ground assault in response to last weekend’s surprise attack by Hamas.
(Bloomberg) — The US has held back-channel talks with Iran in recent days to warn the country against escalating the conflict in Israel, as Israeli forces prepare an expected ground assault in response to last weekend’s surprise attack by Hamas.
“We have means of communicating privately with Iran, and we have availed ourselves of those means over the past few days to make clear privately that which we have said publicly,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Sunday on CBS News’s Face the Nation.
Sullivan said the US couldn’t rule out that Iran might intervene in the conflict, and was monitoring both the possibility of direct involvement by Tehran and proxy activity by Hezbollah across the border with Lebanon.
On Saturday, the US announced it was sending the USS Eisenhower carrier strike group to the Eastern Mediterranean as part of its deterrence effort.
The US sees “a real risk of escalation on the northern border” of Israel, Sullivan said on ABC’s This Week, though he told CBS there’s no specific new intelligence suggesting the risk of escalation by Iran had increased.
Iran warned in a social media post Sunday that if Israel’s “war crimes and genocide are not halted immediately, the situation could spiral out of control.”
There would be “far-reaching consequences,” Iran’s mission to the United Nations posted on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.
And Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi discussed the Israel-Hamas conflict with French President Emmanuel Macron in a phone call on Sunday.
“If Israel’s crimes, including the killing of the people and the siege of Gaza don’t stop, the situation can become complicated and the scene will expand,” Raisi was cited as saying by Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency.
Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas in retaliation for last weekend’s attack, which left some 1,300 people dead and dozens more abducted.
Israel’s expected ground assault in the Gaza Strip would come in addition to intense aerial bombardment in the attack’s immediate aftermath, which Gaza authorities say have killed 2,200 people.
President Joe Biden on Saturday called Israeli and Palestinian leaders to discuss efforts to ensure access to water, food and medical care for civilians living in Gaza.
While Sullivan said the US was working to secure the return of hostages and open up a corridor so that civilians could flee Gaza, he said the White House hasn’t dictated specific requests to Israel to delay its military operations.
“I’m not going to get into our private conversations with the Israelis, but we are not interfering in their military planning or trying to give them instructions or requests specific to their military planning,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Sullivan also denied reports that talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia to establish diplomatic ties had been formally paused, though he acknowledged that focus in the region was on the immediate situation.
“There’s not some kind of formal pause,” he told NBC. “But the long-term goal of a more peaceful, more integrated Middle East region, including through normalization, remains very much a focus of US foreign policy.”
The White House is also planning “intense engagement” with Congress in the coming days over a request for a supplemental spending package that will include aid requests for Ukraine and Israel, Sullivan said.
The request, which is expected to be formally unveiled this week, will be “significantly higher” than the $2 billion in aid for Israel’s Iron Dome defense system included in legislation unveiled last week by a bipartisan group of House lawmakers, Sullivan said.
–With assistance from Alicia Diaz and Ryan Teague Beckwith.
(Updates with Sullivan comments on Saudi Arabia, funding requests.)
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