JERUSALEM — U.S. President Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lepid to discuss Iran’s rapid-developing nuclear program. The Israeli leader promised that there would be “no nuclear Iran .”
The U.S. President is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia Friday. He also stated to Lapid that he believes it’s important for Israel to become “totally integrated” in the region.
Their one-on-one talks are the centerpiece of a 48-hour visit by Biden aimed at strengthening already tight relations between the U.S and Israel. They are likely to sign a joint statement later in the day, emphasizing mutual military cooperation as well as a pledge to prevent Iran (which Israel regards an enemy) from getting a nuclear bomb.
” We discussed the Iranian threat,” Lapid informed reporters afterwards. “There won’t be a nuclear Iran
Israeli officials sought to make use of Biden’s first trip to the Middle East in his capacity as president in order to highlight that Iran’s nuke program is too advanced and to encourage the Biden administration’s efforts to stop attempts to revive an 2015 deal with Iran to restrict its development.
Reviving the agreement brokered by Barack Obama and then abandoned by Donald Trump in 2018 was Biden’s top priority when he took office. However, officials in the administration have grown increasingly skeptical about Iran’s ability to comply.
Biden, in an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 that aired Wednesday, offered strong assurances of his determination to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power, saying he’d be willing to use force as a “last resort” if necessary.
Iran declared last week it had enriched uranium for 60% purity. This is a technical leap away from weapons-grade quality.
The joint declaration that will be made later in the week could have significant symbolic significance for Biden’s weekend meeting with Arab leaders from Saudi Arabia, as he seeks strengthening a regional alliance against Iran.
” I talked about how crucial it was…for Israel to be fully integrated in the regional,” Biden stated after his one-on-one conversation with Lapid.
Thursday’s meeting may also give Lapid a boost, as he is currently serving as interim prime Minister until November elections. Lapid is opposed by Benjamin Netanyahu, the ex-prime minister. Biden’s appearance could strengthen his reputation as a leader and statesman.
Israel is holding its fifth election within less than four years.
Biden, Lapid will also hold a joint press conference on Thursday. They’ll be participating in a virtual summit together with India and UAE. This group of countries is known as I2U2. A $2 billion Indian agricultural project will be funded by the United Arab Emirates.
Lapid is an ex-journalist and TV anchor, who only entered politics a decade ago. After serving as the finance minister of Israel under Netanyahu (the country’s longest-serving prime minster), he became the leader and coalition builder for the opposition, which ended Netanyahu’s rule.
Naftali was elected prime minister. Lapid became his foreign minister. After months of fighting, the coalition fell apart and Bennett was forced to stand down for Lapid until after the election.
Lapid was able to establish his reputation as a stateman and foreign minister. His aides believe the private face time, public appearances and demonstrations of friendship with Biden — who, at 79, is making his 10th trip to Israel — will strengthen that image and get the electorate more comfortable with the idea of Lapid as their leader.
But, Netanyahu is back in contention to be prime minister. Opinion polls show that Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party will get the most seats at the next election. This puts him well ahead of Lapid and his centrist Yesh Atid.
Neither party has the ability to win all of the seats required to form a government. It is also unclear if either one could create a coalition with smaller parties.
Biden played down the political uncertainty in an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 that aired Wednesday.
” We are committed to the State, not an Individual Leader,” he stated. Biden stated Thursday that he had met with Lapid and said: “We had an excellent beginning to a long, God-willing, relationship “
Biden will only meet briefly with Netanyahu. He has had a troubled relationship with Netanyahu in the past. Most notable, Netanyahu’s government approved an enormous settlement project in East Jerusalem when he was Prime Minister. This was while Biden visited the country in 2010.. Biden was furious.
Much like Lapid’s predecessor, Biden faces political threats from the former. Trump is an ally to Netanyahu and may be running for another term.
Asked by Channel 12 if he expected a rematch, Biden replied, “I’m not predicting, but I would not be disappointed.”
Because the U.S. is Israel’s most trusted and important ally in the Middle East, Biden’s visit will be a highlight of his attention.
Israel held a lavish welcome ceremony at Tel Aviv Airport, which included a red carpet as well as a band playing the national anthems of the two countries. Major TV networks broadcast live coverage of Biden’s arrival, including a loop of his motorcade on the highway towards Jerusalem.
Biden will also be able to meet many politicians who are eager to take their picture with him or share some stories about the administration’s efforts to revive the Iran nuclear agreement.
Israel opposed the original nuclear agreement, reached by President Obama under 2015,. Its limitations on Iran’s enrichment in nuclear fuel would be lifted and it didn’t deal with Iran’s missile program or other military activities.
Instead of Trump withdrawing from the agreement in 2018, Israel, the U.S. would rather have strict sanctions to ensure a stronger accord.
Biden will also receive on Thursday the country’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Honor, which is presented by Isaac Herzog, Israeli President.
He will also meet U.S. participants in the Maccabiah Games. It’s also known as “Jewish Olympics” and is held every four years. This event attracts Jewish and Israeli athletes from around the world.
Megerian was reported by Washington. This report was contributed by Darlene Superville and Aamer Madhani, both journalists for Associated Press.