JERUSALEM – President Joe Biden’s closed-door meetings with Israeli leaders on Thursday deepened divisions over Iran and an independent palestinian stateamong other critical points.
But in public, it was mostly kumbaya between Biden and the new Israeli prime minister, Yair Lapid. With the prime minister at his side, Biden said his meeting was a “good start” to what will be “a long relationship, and God willing” between the two leaders.
“I think the vast majority of the American public, not just my administration, is completely dedicated to (Israel’s) security,” Biden said.
The president acknowledged that a discussion about the possibility of an updated nuclear deal with Iran took place during their private conversation.
“There will be no nuclear Iran. This is not just a threat to Israel, but to the world,” Biden said. “And we discussed some other issues that we’re going to keep to ourselves.”
But at a subsequent news conference, Lapid lectured Biden on the subject. In prepared remarks, the Israeli leader pressed Biden to change course on Iran.
Lapid said no amount of words or diplomacy would stop Iran from further developing its nuclear program.
“The only way to stop them is to put a credible military threat on the table,” Lapid told Biden.
Biden said in his opening remarks that he would maintain his focus. “I continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this result.”
The United States and Israel also issued a joint statement outlining areas of consensus. They launched an association on emerging technologies.
And Biden, who is making his tenth trip to Israel, though only his first as president – will receive Israel’s Presidential Medal of Honor in recognition of his decades of support.
The tension: Biden’s relationship with Israel has been strained by his attempts to restart a 2015 deal with Iran that was meant to curb its nuclear activities but which Israel felt was not tough enough.
The diffuser: The US and Israel released a joint statement that affirmed the US “moral commitment” to US security. The statement says that the United States is “ready for us all elements of its national power to ensure “Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.”
Two state solution: Biden said he would discuss his support for creating an independent Palestinian nation alongside Israel, “even though I know it’s not in the short term.” Instead of launching a new peace initiative, Biden will encourage both sides to “come closer to a vision that works for both Israelis and Palestinians, and for the region as a whole,” according to Jake Sullivan, national security adviser at Biden.
Joint ventures: The United States and Israel are launching a “high-level strategic dialogue” on technology. That comes on top of a partnership in developing a laser-enabled missile defense system that Biden was briefed on Wednesday.
For the first time: Biden’s first meeting of the day was with Lapid, who recently became Israel’s interim prime minister after the collapse of a coalition government.
New Association: Biden also held talks with the leaders of Israel, India and the United Arab Emirates, a grouping the nations refer to as the I2U2 that they say will work together on food security challenges and clean energy initiatives.
Why it matters: Biden’s efforts to build stronger alliances with Indo-Pacific powers are a feature of his foreign policy. He met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Europe in June at the Group of Seven economic summit, and in Tokyo in May, when the US and a dozen other countries launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. India is also part of the Quad, an informal security alliance between Japan, the US and Australia.
Improving Relationships: It is Biden’s second conversation with the leader of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed, since MBZ became president in May. Biden made a condolence call to the leader, whose nation is one of OPEC’s top oil producers, following the death of MBZ’s half-brother in May.
What is going to happen
Biden and Lapid will hold a joint news conference where they may be pressed about their differing views on Iran and aid to the Palestinians. Both of them could also be asked about Palestinian American Shireen Abu Akleh, a journalist who was shot dead in May while reporting on an Israeli military operation in the occupied West Bank.
In what experts say is an attempt to avoid showing favoritism in the upcoming election, Biden will also meet with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuthe leader of the opposition party who is vying to return.
Sullivan said the meeting reflects that the US relationship with Israel “is not just about one person, one leader,” but “the state of Israel and engaging across the political spectrum.”
The best takeaways
Despite their differences on Iran, Israelis still like Biden personally, says David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Middle East Policy.
“Biden as an individual is very popular because they like visceral politicians who wear their love of Israel on their sleeve,” Makovsky said. “She does it.”
But Israelis know that Democratic Party progressives are pushing Biden to be tougher on Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, according to Tamar Hermann, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. Furthermore, Hermann said, Biden succeeded former President Donald Trump, a very popular figure in Israel.
Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and helped normalize relations between Israel and several Arab nations.
what they are saying
Shortly after arriving in Israel on Wednesday, Biden called the connection between the Israeli people and the American people “deep.” “And generation after generation, that connection grows,” Biden said.
Lapid said Biden’s relationship with Israel “has always been very personal.” He called Biden “one of the best friends Israel has ever known.”
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, putting the energy security aspect of Biden’s trip into context, told reporters that the US is in “constant contact” with oil producers in the Gulf and around the world.
“Obviously, we’re also working on domestic production. And those conversations will continue during this trip,” Sullivan said.
Appearing virtually at the I2U2 summit, MBZ said that although the countries do not share geographic borders, they face “overlapping challenges” including food and energy security, health care and climate change.
Lapid added that “no country, no matter how big or rich, can meet” these challenges alone.
On the other hand, the Israeli prime minister said: “Groups that are too large can end up being ineffective. The quadruple is, in my opinion, the correct model.”
Biden cited Russia’s war against Ukraine and the pandemic as examples of issues that “require cooperation and coordination” between nations.
“At every step we should ask ourselves, ‘What can we accomplish together?’” Biden said.
You want to know more? This is what you missed:
Avoid handshakes: Could COVID help Biden avoid a controversial interaction in the Middle East??
‘No one has any hope’: Ahead of Biden’s Middle East trip, some Palestinians say he’s no different than Trump
A sign of ‘impunity’?: Biden trip to the Middle East pits human rights against geopolitical reality
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden in Israel: Talk of Iran nuclear deal adds tension to visit