U.S. 'Very Much Appreciates' Israel's Ukraine-Russia Diplomacy, Blinken Tells Lapid

Secretary of State Blinken is expected to visit Israel soon, but likely only after negotiations on a new Iran nuclear deal are concluded

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Latvia, Monday.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Latvia, Monday.Credit: Olivier Douliery /AP

The Biden administration "very much appreciates" Israel's engagement in the diplomatic efforts to end the war in Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Monday, at the start of their meeting in Riga.

"We appreciate all efforts by friends and allies to look for a diplomatic resolution," Blinken said. "Unfortunately, Russia chose not to pursue the path of diplomacy, it chose aggression, and now we have to all contend with that."

Lapid said Israel was "totally committed to do everything possible to stop the war in Ukraine." He said "The way to stop a war is to negotiate," adding that Israel was in contact with both Moscow and Ukraine.

The meeting in Latvia's capital comes after Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visited Moscow last week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as part of Israel's larger mediation push to bring an end to the Russian offensive in Ukraine.

This effort has seen Israel separately communicating with both Russia and Ukraine in coordination with a number of Western powers.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Latvia, Monday.Credit: Olivier Douliery /AP

"We have condemned the Russian invasion, and we still do....and Israel is a partner in the global effort to make sure and verify that this war must be stopped," Lapid said.

The U.S. administration has called on Israel to publicly condemn Russia, and this isn't the first public condemnation on Lapid's part.

Lapid and Blinken were meeting to discuss the war in Ukraine, as well as negotiations on reviving the Iran nuclear agreement, which are both "events that are changing the world as we know it," the Israeli minister said.

Blinken told Lapid he will visit Israel soon, Israeli officials said, but the visit will probably take place only after a new nuclear deal is signed, to show that America remains committed to Israel’s security. Israeli officials also said they were pleased by Blinken's public backing of Israel's mediation efforts, adding they hope it will calm a spate of media reports on growing criticism within the U.S. administration of Israel’s conduct on the Ukraine crisis.

A source involved in the U.S.-Israel talks said the second part of the meeting, when Blinken informed Lapid that the Iran talks, was far more difficult and fraught than the first one, which focused on Ukraine. Lapid reiterated Israel’s objections to the deal and made clear that Israel wouldn’t consider itself bound by it.

Bennett-Putin meeting

On Saturday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow in part to discuss the Ukraine crisis – a move U.S. President Joe Biden's administration had been informed about in advance and had supported, according to Israeli officials. The meeting was also coordinated with Germany and France, a senior official said, amid “constant communication” with Ukraine.

Bennett also spoke twice throughout Saturday evening with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a spokesman for the prime minister said.

Bennett and Putin then spoke on the phone fewer than 24 hours after their meeting in Moscow, a statement from the premier office said on Sunday, after which Bennett also spoke with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The Biden administration was also informed of the subsequent phone call with Putin, Israeli officials said, adding that Bennett spoke to U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan before and after the call.

Israel, home to a substantial population of Ukrainian and Russian immigrants, is increasingly positioning itself as a mediator between Russia, Ukraine and the West, though officials have previously played down expectations of a breakthrough.

On Sunday Bennett said Israel will continue to assist on the Russia-Ukraine crisis, “even if the chances [of succeeding] are not great.”

The prime minister believes attempts to reach a solution as a “moral duty,” per a statement from his office. He also said last Thursday that world powers should “act rapidly” to reboot negotiations between Russia and Ukraine to avoid an “untold loss of life.”

Near the start of the invasion, Zelenskyy asked Bennett to mediate talks in Jerusalem in an attempt to resolve the crisis, per The New York Times, which cited the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk.

“We do believe that Israel is the only democratic state in the world that has great relations with both Ukraine and Russia,” the paper quoted Korniychuk as saying.

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