Biden to Israeli PM: US has options if Iranian nuclear diplomacy fails
WASHINGTON, Aug.27 (Reuters) – US President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during White House talks on Friday that he was putting “diplomacy first” in an attempt to curb Iran’s nuclear program, but if negotiations failed, he would be prepared to turn to other unspecified options.
After a one-day delay due to a suicide bombing in Kabul during the chaotic US evacuation from Afghanistan, Biden and Bennett held their first meeting in an effort to restore US relations. Israeli forces and reduce differences over how to handle Iran’s nuclear developments.
Tensions have complicated relations between Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, close to former President Donald Trump, and the last Democratic administration led by Barack Obama with Biden as vice president.
But the meeting, the first since Biden and Bennett took office this year, was overshadowed by Thursday’s attack outside Kabul airport that left at least 92 dead, including 13 U.S. servicemen, confronting Biden with the worst crisis of his young presidency.
“The mission thereâ¦ is dangerous and now it comes with a significant loss of American personnel, but it is a laudable mission,” Biden told reporters after his one-on-one talks with Bennett.
US forces helping to evacuate Afghans desperate to flee the new Taliban regime were on alert for further attacks. Read more
In brief remarks before reporters left the Oval Office, the two leaders touched on Iran, one of the thorniest issues between the Biden administration and Israel, but mostly covered up their disagreements.
Biden said he and Bennett discussed “the threat from Iran and our commitment to ensure that Iran never develops nuclear weapons.”
âWe are prioritizing diplomacy and we’ll see where that takes us. But if diplomacy fails, we are prepared to look to other options, âBiden added, without giving details.
Bennett, a far-right politician who ended Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure as prime minister in June, was expected to pressure Biden to toughen his approach to Iran and withdraw from negotiations to revive an international nuclear deal with Tehran that Trump abandoned.
The US-Iran negotiations are at a standstill as Washington awaits the next decision from the new Iranian president outright.
“I was happy to hear your clear words that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon,” Bennett told Biden. “You stressed that you will try the diplomatic route but there are other options if that does not work,” he added, also stopping to identify the possibilities.
Bennett has sought to move away from Netanyahu’s combative public style and instead deal with behind-the-scenes disagreements between Washington and its closest ally in the Middle East.
But he was as adamant as Netanyahu in pledging to do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran, which Israel considers an existential threat, from building a nuclear weapon. Iran constantly denies that it is looking for a bomb.
Bennett told reporters at the White House that Israel has developed a “comprehensive strategy” to keep Iran out of the nuclear explosion and stop its “regional aggression.”
Referring to threats of Israeli military action and the billions of dollars in US military aid he receives, Bennett said, âWe will never outsource our security. It is our responsibility to take care of our plight, but we thank you for the toolsâ¦ you gave us. “
The visit gave Biden the opportunity to demonstrate business as usual with a key partner while grappling with the aftermath of the Afghan attack. His handling of the end of the US military presence there after 20 years of war not only hurt his approval ratings in his country, but also raised questions about his credibility with his friends and relatives. enemies abroad.
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Biden and Bennett remain estranged from each other. Biden renewed his support for a two-state solution after Trump strayed from this long-held tenet of US policy. Bennett opposes a Palestinian state.
Biden made a brief reference to the issue, saying he wanted to discuss “ways to advance peace, security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians.”
Bennett did not mention the Palestinians in his remarks.
The consensus among Biden’s aides is that now is not the time to push for a resumption of long-dormant peace talks or major Israeli concessions, which could destabilize Bennett’s ideologically diverse coalition.
But Biden’s aides did not rule out asking Bennett for modest gestures to help avoid a repeat of the bitter fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip that caught the new US administration off guard earlier this year.
The US administration has also stressed that it opposes further expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied lands.
Bennett, 49, the son of American immigrants to Israel, has been a strong supporter of settlement building.
The delay in the White House meeting means Bennett, an Orthodox Jew who does not travel on the Sabbath, will stay in Washington until after sunset on Saturday.
Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem; Editing by Howard Goller
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