U.S. President Joe Biden said Sunday he would visit Israel later this year after speaking with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as indirect American-Iranian talks on reviving the 2015 international nuclear deal with Tehran enter the final stretch.
In a phone conversation, the two leaders discussed regional challenges, including continuing Iranian aggression and “potential measures to halt Iran's nuclear program,” which made up the bulk of the conversation.
Bennett said he made it clear to Biden that "Israel will maintain its freedom of action in any situation, with or without a [nuclear] deal."
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Israel's prime minister also congratulated the president on the assassination of Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi last week by U.S. forces, in what the Pentagon said was a large-scale overnight raid in northwestern Syria.
The phone call between the two leaders was coordinated as the U.S.-determined deadline for the talks between world powers and Iran in Vienna looms. During the discussion, Biden offered a status report of the talks while Bennett frequently reiterated Israel's fears that the parties would reach an agreement that would not foil Iran's nuclear program.
According to a U.S. readout of the call, Biden underscored his commitment to expanding stability and partnerships across the Middle East region, as exemplified by the Abraham Accords, together with Israelis and Palestinians enjoying equal measures of security, freedom, and prosperity.
He further emphasized his administration’s full support for replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome system. Biden previously committed to providing $1 billion in emergency aid, though it has remained stagnant in the Senate since September over Sen. Rand Paul's objections.
The two leaders also discussed global challenges outside the Middle East region, including the United States' concern regarding the increasing tensions between Russia and Ukraine. The readout also noted that Biden “looks forward to a visit [to Israel] later this year.”
This is the fourth conversation between the two since Bennett assumed power. The first was in June after Bennett was sworn in, after which they met in August in Washington and again in November during the Glasgow climate summit.
Israel has struggled to determine whether the Vienna meetings will result in a new agreement with Iran. An Israeli official said just weeks ago that the U.S. administration is striving to reach an agreement with Iran “at any cost,” including a partial agreement or one that Israel will find unsatisfactory. Other officials have clarified in past days, however, that the decision is currently in the hands of Tehran, and that there have been no clear indications of whether they intend to continue this process or walk away from it.
On Friday, the Biden administration restored sanction waivers to Iran in order to permit international nuclear cooperation projects.
The waivers had allowed Russian, Chinese and European companies to carry out nonproliferation work to effectively make it harder for Iranian nuclear sites to be used for weapons development. The waivers were rescinded by the United States in 2019 and 2020 under President Donald Trump, who pulled out of the nuclear agreement.
The indirect talks with Iran are aimed at returning the United States to the agreement and for Iran to resume compliance. The agreement was reached under former President Barack Obama, and Biden has pledged to try to bring the United States back into it.