On Middle East trip, Biden reassures Israelis about Iran nuclear talks

During a four-day trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, President Biden will focus on securing oil for American gas pumps, slowing Iran’s nuclear program and strengthening relations with Saudi Arabia.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

JERUSALEM — President Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday to open a four-day visit to the Middle East that will focus on trying to slow Iran’s nuclear program, getting oil to American gas pumps and improving relations with Saudi Arabia.

Nearly 50 years after making his first trip to Israel as a newly elected senator, Mr. Biden returned for the first time as president and wasted no time seeking to reaffirm his unwavering support for the Jewish state despite the friction caused by its efforts to negotiate a new nuclear power. deal with Iran.

“Every chance to return to this great country where the ancient roots of the Jewish people go back to biblical times is a blessing, because the bond between the Israeli people and the American people runs deep,” Biden said during a brief arrival. . ceremony at Ben Gurion airport. “Generation after generation, this connection grows.”

Mr Biden, who noted as he often does that he has known every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir, whom he met on his first trip in 1973, was on his 10th visit to Israel and seemed determined to dispel the idea that he is any less supportive of the country than his predecessor, President Donald J. Trump, who made his support for Israel a cornerstone of his foreign policy.

“Our relationship is deeper in my opinion than it has ever been,” Biden said.

Saluting him as he disembarked from Air Force One, Israeli leaders echoed that sentiment, emphasizing that they consider Mr Biden a friend and ignoring their differences. President Isaac Herzog called him “our brother Joseph”, stating, “You really are family.” The country’s acting prime minister, Yair Lapid, called him “a great Zionist and one of the best friends Israel has ever known.”

“It’s a very personal visit,” Mr. Lapid said, “because your relationship with Israel has always been very personal. You once defined yourself as a Zionist. You said you don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist. And you were right.

Without dwelling on it, Lapid confirmed that the two leaders would discuss Iran and their joint efforts to strengthen cooperation between Middle Eastern countries. Once isolated in the region, Israel is increasingly involved in regional diplomacy, following landmark diplomatic deals with three Arab countries in 2020 – and officials hope further progress will be made during Mr Biden’s visit.

Mr Biden also pointed to another area of ​​potential tension, reiterating his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after criticizing his administration for not prioritizing the issue.

“We will discuss my continued support, although I know it is not in a new term, for a two-state solution which remains in my view the best way to secure the future of an equal measure of freedom , prosperity and democracy for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” Biden said.

Prior to his arrival, the Israeli government had made several small gestures towards the Palestinians, including granting new work permits to Gazans. But as Mr Biden will visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, restoring communications that were cut during the Trump presidency, there is little hope the visit will bring progress in resolving the dispute. .

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, cut a marginal figure at the welcoming ceremony. Now removed from office, he is the leader of the opposition and will only have a brief meeting with the president on Thursday.

But he and Mr Biden have a warm but often strained relationship that dates back four decades, and the US leader was keen to seek out Mr Netanyahu during a group photo for Israeli and US officials. Mr. Biden shook Mr. Netanyahu’s hand long and warmly, and the two men gave the impression of being happy to see each other.

The president’s trip comes at a delicate time in Israeli politics. A fragile governing coalition recently collapsed, leaving Mr. Lapid as caretaker prime minister until November elections in which Mr. Netanyahu hopes to return.

At the end of the reception ceremony, Mr. Lapid joked about his and Mr. Biden’s respective trajectories since a previous meeting between the two in Washington.

He told Mr Biden: “I don’t know if you remember, but eight years ago we met at the White House when you were vice president. You said to me: “If only I had hair like yours, I would be president”, to which I replied: “And if only I had your size, I would be prime minister”.

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