Lapid Tells U.S. to Formulate Plan B to Iran Nuke Talks in First Official Visit

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Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington, on Tuesday.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington, on Tuesday.Credit: MANDEL NGAN - AFP

Yair Lapid stressed the necessity of the U.S. forging a fallback plan in case negotiations with Iran reached a dead end in his visit to Washington on Tuesday, the first time an Israeli foreign minister has made the trip since U.S. President Joe Biden's inauguration.

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In his meeting with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, the foreign minister expressed Israel's concern over Iran "becoming a nuclear threshold state." 

According to the U.S., Sullivan reaffirmed "President Biden’s commitment to ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon."

Later in the day, Lapid also met with Vice President Kamala Harris, who opened their discussion by reiterating the U.S.' "unwavering" support for Israel.

The White House said they discussed "advancing peace, security, and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis, in particular the need to improve living conditions and ensure calm in Gaza," as well as other issues such as Iran, COVID-19 and the climate crisis.   

In his opening remarks, Lapid described Harris as "one of the best friends Israel has in Washington. A leader that stands with us in all the important struggles, and we can always count on in difficult moments."

"Even when we have differences, I know that our goal is common, which is to see Israel strong, secure, and thriving. And we also believe that the Palestinians are entitled to quality of life, an economy, education, and hope," Lapid added.

The meeting with Sullivan also covered the reconstruction of the Gaza and Lapid's 'Economy for Security' plan for the Strip, according to Israeli sources. Sullivan, meanwhile,  emphasized "the importance of practical steps to improve the lives of the Palestinians" in the sit-down."

Lapid also met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  The foreign minister thanked Pelosi for her support in approving more U.S. funding for Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system. "I know you spent lots of sleepless nights on this," he said.

In a brief statement, Pelosi joined Lapid in stressing the importance of bipartisan support for Israel.

As well as this, the foreign minister spoke with senators from both major parties, and met with Democratic Majority for Israel’s board of directors, key supporters and staff. The pro-Israel organization was founded by veteran pollster and senior Lapid adviser Mark Mellman.

'Candid' over China threat

The visit will feature a joint meeting with the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A senior State Department official also said the U.S. will bring up the shared interest that comes with Israel's close cooperation with China. "We’ll be candid with our Israeli friends over risks to our shared national security interests that come with close cooperation with China," an official said.

On top of this, the two countries will be the formation of working groups with the United Arab Emirates on religious coexistence and water and energy issues.

Israeli officials would like to see the United States involved in promoting ties between Israel and the other countries that signed onto the 2020 Abraham Accords, which initially included the UAE and Bahrain, which were joined by Morocco and Sudan. 

At the meeting, the United States may present a plan to advance ties among the signatories to the Abraham Accords and to encourage additional countries to sign on. Senior State Department officials said they hope that the normalization agreements could be leveraged to advance progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Iranian nuclear developments will be an additional major topic of the foreign minister’s visit, as he is expected to highlight a number of security challenges posed by Iran in the Middle East. These include the joint effort by the United States, Israel and the UAE to handle the threat posed by Iranian drones; Iran's delivery of precision missiles to Lebanon; and maintaining freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea.

On his trip, Lapid is also addressing the Palestinian issue. While he has highlighted his own, relatively liberal foreign policy views on the subject, including his support of the two-state solution, he is also expected to state that Israel’s current diverse coalition government cannot make substantial diplomatic progress with the Palestinian Authority.

Lapid has also presented his plan for reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, which involves economic improvements in Gaza in exchange for security arrangements. The plan, which has not been approved by the cabinet, would permit substantial outside funding to come into Gaza in return for maintaining quiet on the security front.

Any form of agreement would be subject to a resolution of Israel’s demands for the return of two Israeli civilians being held in Gaza, as well as the bodies of two soldiers who were killed there in 2014. For the most part, Lapid’s proposal is based on prior Israeli plans.

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