In their first face-to-face meeting, President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that he will continue to seek diplomacy with Iran and sought to reassure him that the United States will never let Tehran develop nuclear weapons.
What You Need To Know
- In their first face-to-face meeting, President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that he will continue to seek diplomacy with Iran
- Biden also sought to reassure Bennett that the United States will never let Tehran develop nuclear weapons
- The two leaders held talks at the White House on Friday, a summit that was delayed a day as Biden dealt with the deadly bombing outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan
- Biden and Bennett both expressed appreciation for the alliance between their two countries, a partnership they said they are both committed to maintaining
The two leaders held talks at the White House on Friday, a summit that was delayed a day as Biden dealt with the deadly bombing outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
One of Bennett’s chief concerns Friday was dissuading Biden from returning to the Iran nuclear deal, arguing that Tehran has already advanced in its uranium enrichment and that sanctions relief would give Iran more resources to support Israel’s enemies in the region.
Biden, however, did not promise not to pursue a deal, telling reporters: “We’re putting diplomacy first, and we’ll see where that takes us. But if diplomacy fails, we’re ready to turn to other options.”
Biden has made clear his desire to find a path to salvage the 2015 pact with Iran that was negotiated by the Obama administration and abandoned by former President Donald Trump.
Since the U.S. withdrawal from the deal in 2018, Tehran over time has abandoned every limitation the accord imposed on its nuclear enrichment. The country now enriches a small amount of uranium up to 63%, a short step from weapons-grade levels, compared with 3.67% under the deal. It also spins far more advanced centrifuges and more of them than were allowed under the accord, worrying nuclear nonproliferation experts even though Tehran insists its program is peaceful.
Bennett said he came with his own strategy to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions that he would discuss in private with Biden. But he said he was happy to hear Biden say he was committed to keeping nuclear weapons out of Iran’s hands.
“These very days illustrate what the world would look like if a radical Islamic regime acquired a nuclear weapon,” the Israeli prime minister said. “That marriage would be a nuclear nightmare for the entire world.”
Bennett’s remarks appeared to be a reference, at least in part, to Thursday’s terror attack in Afghanistan that killed more than 100 people, including 13 U.S. service members.
Biden and Bennett both opened their remarks to the press by paying their respects to those who died in the explosion, which came as the U.S. was rushing to evacuate Americans, Afghan allies and others in the wake of the Taliban takeover of the country.
“Our hearts go out to all those we’ve lost,” Biden said. “The mission … has come with a significant loss of American personnel. We will complete the mission.”
Bennett called the service members who were killed the “very definition of courage and sacrifice. May they rest in peace.”
Biden and Bennett both expressed appreciation for the alliance between their two countries, a partnership they said they are both committed to maintaining.
“You and I are going to write yet another chapter in the beautiful story of the friendship between our two nations, the United States of America and the Jewish and democratic State of Israel,” Bennett said.
Bennett, who took office in June, said he brings a “new spirit, a spirit of goodwill, a spirit of hope, a spirit of decency and honesty.”
Said Biden: “The U.S. will always be there for Israel. It’s an unshakeable partnership between our two nations.”
Bennett said Israel is “in the toughest neighborhood in the world” and has to be “overwhelmingly stronger than all of our enemies and indeed of all our enemies combined.”
“We’ve got ISIS on our southern border, Hezbollah on our northern border, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Iranian militias that surround us, and all of them want to kill us, kill Israelis,” he said. “They all want to annihilate the Jewish state.”
While Biden said the United States is committed to Israel’s security and supports its Iron Dome air defense system, the president also said he wanted to discuss with Bennett ways to advance peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians.
Biden and Bennett also have their differences. Bennett opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and supports expansion of settlements in the West Bank, which Biden opposes.
The two sides played down the Palestinian issue on Friday in an apparent attempt to avoid any public friction at this early stage of their relationship.
Given the poor prospects for progress in diplomatic talks with the Palestinians, both men appeared to be more interested in shoring up the new Israeli government in their first in-person talks.
The two leaders also discussed the COVID-19 pandemic Friday. Israel was a pioneer in offering booster shots last month, a strategy the U.S. plans to adopt in September, pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The U.S. has tried to learn from Israel, whose has been ahead in rolling out vaccines, facing the delta variant and now administering booster shots.
“I can report to you, Mr. President, and to everyone that we’ve reached almost 3 million Israelis that have received the booster shot,” Bennett said. “And the bottom line is, it’s safe and it works.
“The good news, finally, is that the tide is turning in Israel,” he added.
The Israeli leader met separately Wednesday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to discuss Iran and other issues. The visit is his first to the U.S. as prime minister.