US taps 'hawkish' ex-ambassador as Israel liaison for Iran
Dan Shapiro, who served as Washington's ambassador to Iran for six years under the Obama administration, will join a team led by Robert Malley, the US Special Envoy to Iran.
Shapiro passed security clearance last week and has already begun working as a "part-time adviser" to Malley, a senior State Department told Axios.
News of the appointment comes after the first meeting between US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ended with Biden's admission that he would consider a "Plan B" if diplomacy failed to curb Iran's nuclear activities.
The sixth round of indirect US-Iran talks took place in Vienna in June but yielded neither a substantive outcome nor the confirmation of a further round of talks.
The election in Iran of ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi has dealt another blow to hopes of an agreement to revive a tattered nuclear deal. Iran is now expected to take a tougher line on the issue under Raisi than former President Hassan Rohani.
Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, like predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, is staunchly opposed to any return to the deal, although has reportedly pledged to not criticise it publically.
The newly-appointed Shapiro, who reportedly has close personal ties with Bennett and other top Israeli officials, is tasked with coordinating with Israel on Washington’s policy towards Iran.
Shapiro, identified by Israeli media as a "hawkish" US diplomat on the issue of Iran, was reportedly in Washington ahead of the meeting between Biden and Bennett, but did not meet the Israeli delegation.
His new role will see him divide time between Washington and Tel Aviv, where he will be based in the US embassy.
In December 2020, Shapiro wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post, urging close dialogue between the US and Israel on Iran policy and recommend the formulation of a joint strategy to contain Tehran.
Sanctions on Iran were lifted when it struck the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with the Obama administration and six world powers in 2015, only to be re-imposed by Trump in 2018 after he unilaterally withdrew from the deal.
Since then, Iran has gradually rescinded on its commitments under the deal, ramping up both the size and enrichment of its uranium stockpile.
Shapiro has come to media attention as a possible candidate for the US envoy leading efforts to broker further normalisation deals between Israel and Arab countries.