WASHINGTON – President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Friday that diplomacy was his first option, but that he would consider other options if his efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal fail.
Biden made the comments when the two sat down for their first face-to-face meeting since Bennett was sworn in as Prime Minister in June.
“We put diplomacy first and see where this takes us,” Biden said during an Oval Office meeting that was delayed by the suicide bombing in Afghanistan. “But if diplomacy fails, we are ready to turn to other options.”
When asked what other options Biden might consider, White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment.
Bennett arrived at the White House to dissuade Biden from reverting to the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated during the Obama administration and later negotiated by President Donald Trump.
Since the US withdrew from the deal in 2018, Tehran has, over time, relinquished all restrictions that the deal placed on its nuclear enrichment. The country is now enriching a small amount of uranium up to 63 percent, a small step from weapons levels compared to 3.67 percent under the deal. It is also spinning much more advanced centrifuges and more of them than were allowed under the deal, which worries nuclear non-proliferation experts, despite Tehran insisting that its program be peaceful.
Bennett said he had come up with his own strategy to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which he would privately discuss with Biden. He expressed satisfaction that the two heads of state and government agreed that Iran should never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.
“Iran is the world’s largest exporter of terror, instability and human rights abuses,” said Bennett. â€œAnd while we’re sitting here, the Iranians are turning their centrifuges in Natanz and Fordo. And we have to stop it and we both agree. “
The meeting, originally scheduled for Thursday, was postponed for a day as Biden turned his attention to dealing with the aftermath of a suicide bombing at Kabul airport that killed 13 US soldiers.
The two spoke by phone on Thursday evening, with Israeli head of state Biden expressing his condolences. At their Oval Office meeting, Bennett again offered his condolences over the loss of US soldiers.
Bennett made his rejection of an Iran deal clear, arguing that Tehran had already made progress on its uranium enrichment and that easing sanctions would give Iran more resources in support of Israel’s enemies in the region.
“These days show what the world would be like if a radical Islamic regime acquired a nuclear weapon,” said Bennett. “This marriage would be a nuclear nightmare for the whole world.”
The Israeli head of state met separately with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Wednesday to discuss Iran and other issues. The visit is his first in the United States as Prime Minister.
Bennett told his cabinet ahead of the trip that he would tell the American President “that now is the time to stop the Iranians, stop this thing” and not re-enter into “an expired and irrelevant nuclear deal” for those who thought it would be relevant. “
Biden has made it clear his desire to find a way to save the 2015 groundbreaking pact negotiated by the Obama administration. But indirect US-Iran talks have stalled and Washington continues to maintain crippling sanctions on the country as regional hostilities simmer.
Bennett’s Washington visit comes weeks after Ebrahim Raisi is sworn in as Iran’s new President.
Raisi, 60, a Conservative clergyman with close ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has proposed joining US militias – something the Biden administration wants to address in a new deal.
Government officials admitted that Iran’s potential “outbreak” – the time it takes to collect enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon – is now months or less.
However, a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity prior to the talks, said the government saw the Trump administration’s campaign for maximum pressure in encouraging Iran to move forward with its nuclear program.
Bennett is also trying to turn the page of his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu had a close relationship with Trump after clashing frequently with President Barack Obama. Biden, who found on Friday that he has met with every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir, has had his own tensions with Netanyahu over the years.
During his recent White House campaign, Biden described Netanyahu as “counterproductive” and a “far-right” leader.
Biden and Bennett also have their differences. Bennett rejects the creation of a Palestinian state and supports the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, which Biden rejects.
The two sides downplayed the Palestinian issue on Friday in an apparent attempt to avoid public friction at this early stage in their relationship.
Given the poor prospect of progress in diplomatic talks with the Palestinians, both men appeared to be more interested in supporting the new Israeli government in their first face-to-face talks.
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