WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden sought to assure Israel that he would not tolerate a nuclear Iran as he met incumbent Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Monday amid a major upheaval in Israeli politics and growing angst in Tel Aviv over the US administration’s efforts to reinstate the Iran nuclear deal.
Biden noted that he had ordered a day earlier airstrikes targeting facilities that the U.S. military said were being used by Iranian-backed militias near the Iraq-Syria border. The rhetoric seemed to point out that he would remain tough on Iran’s pernicious activities even if it seeks a diplomatic channel to stem Tehran’s nuclear program.
“What I can tell you is that Iran will never have a nuclear weapon under my watch,” Biden said at the White House meeting.
The meeting with Rivlin, who is making his last overseas trip during his presidency, came just weeks after Naftali Bennett became Israel’s new prime minister, replacing Benjamin Netanyahu. The Biden administration, meanwhile, has stepped up efforts to revive the 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers to limit Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. Former President Donald Trump, with backing from Netanyahu, canceled the deal in 2018.
Biden said he hoped to meet the new prime minister at the White House “very soon”.
Rivlin is expected to step down on July 7 after a seven-year term. Isaac Herzog, a former member of parliament who recently headed a non-profit organization that works closely with the government to promote immigration to Israel, will take over as Israeli president.
Rivlin was also due to meet with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi later Monday.
Biden said the two would talk about Iran and the consequences of the Gaza war. The president also stressed his support for the further normalization of relations between Israel and countries of the Arab and Muslim world and planned to reiterate the administration’s pledge to resupply Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which has been exhausted during the 11-day war with Hamas in Gaza. .
The latest conflict claimed the lives of at least 254 Palestinians and killed 13 people in Israel.
Biden has little hope, at least for now, of relaunching the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, according to an official familiar with the deliberations of the Biden administration. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said officials in the Biden administration are starting square one to establish contacts with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, a relationship that s eroded during the Trump administration.
The meeting with Rivlin comes a day after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Rome with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist who, along with Bennett and six other political allies, built a fragile coalition government that put Netanyahu in opposition.
Aviv Kochavi, Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, met with Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan and other senior national security officials last week. Kochavi reiterated Israel’s opposition to the Biden administration’s efforts to revive the 2015 agreement.
Administration officials, however, retaliated in talks with Kochavi and other members of Israel’s new government that it is worth giving diplomacy a chance to prevent Tehran from acquiring a weapons system. nuclear, although this is not guaranteed, the official said.