WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, speaking on Sunday before boarding a return flight to Israel, said he has achieved all of his goals during his visit to Washington this week to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden and other senior U.S. officials.
Bennett said his Friday meeting with Biden was “very warm and effective,” noting that a “direct and personal bond based on trust," formed between them. He also said that the two leaders agreed to “a joint strategic effort” to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and that with respect to the visa requirements for Israel, “Biden ordered that the issue be advanced and resolved as soon as possible."
Also referring to Israeli airstrikes on Hamas targets in Gaza overnight Saturday following protests on the border fence and the launching of incendiary balloons from the Strip that started fires in Israel's south, the premier said "We will act in Gaza as per our interests. The address in Gaza was and remains Hamas."
At Friday's meeting, Biden broke the ice by taking Bennett for a cup of coffee in his private dining room, instead of the Oval Office. The meeting had originally been scheduled for Thursday, but was rescheduled following the bomb blast at the Kabul airport that day, which killed 13 U.S. servicemen and at least 90 Afghanis.
In a press briefing with Israeli journalists after the meeting, Bennett said that he and Biden had formed a very close and amicable relationship.
"I invited President [Biden] to Israel after we beat the delta variant. I thank the president and his entire team for the decision to hold the meeting and their attention and focus while America is going through such complicated times."
Bennett said that his meeting with Biden "was excellent. It felt like we've known each other for a long time. I found a leader who loves Israel, he knows exactly what he wants and is attentive to our needs."
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Biden also told Israeli journalists that "President Biden as well as I are determined to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons. I'm glad we're in agreement. We'll work in the coming days, weeks and months to develop our cooperation channels. There isn't much time and this issue is urgent."
Earlier, at a joint press conference after the meeting, Biden said he discussed with Bennett “the threat from Iran and our commitment to ensure Iran never develops a nuclear weapon.”
"Iran is the world's number one exporter of terror, instability and human rights violations ... and we're going to stop them, we both agreed," Bennett said alongside Biden.
"I was happy to hear your clear words, that Iran will never acquire nuclear weapons," Bennett told Biden. "We will try the diplomatic route, but there are other options if that doesn't work out."
“We're putting diplomacy first, and we'll see where that takes us. But if diplomacy fails, we're ready to turn to other options,” Biden added.
Bennett stressed that Israel is not asking – nor will it ever ask – that American soldiers defend it. "We will never outsource our security," Bennett added. "It's our responsibility to take care of our fate."
"These very days illustrated what the world would look like if a radical Islamic regime acquired a nuclear weapon, that marriage would be a nuclear nightmare for the entire world," Bennett said in reference to the deadly Kabul attack.
Addressing the Palestinian issue, Biden said that "We’ll discuss ways to advance peace and security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians."