'This President Loves Israel': U.S. Ambassador Talks Biden Visit, Saudi Ties

Ambassador Thomas Nides joins the Haaretz Weekly podcast for a July 4th interview. He discusses the president’s upcoming visit to Israel, and addresses hints of a breakthrough between Riyadh and Jerusalem. Also: what will come of his efforts to add Israel to the U.S. visa waiver program? 

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U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides.Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO
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Haaretz

U.S. President Joe Biden is committed to building on the Abraham Accords between Israel and the Gulf states, but he will not announce a normalization deal involving Israel and Saudi Arabia during his upcoming visit to the Middle East, said U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides in a special July 4 interview on the Haaretz Weekly podcast.

“Would I love at some point in the future for the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel to become ‘normalized’? One hundred percent,” said Nides. “Will it happen on this visit? No, it won’t.”

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'This president loves Israel:' U.S. ambassador talks Biden visit, ties with Saudi Arabia

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When he arrives in Israel on July 13, Biden will convey the importance of the “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel, according to Nides. The U.S. president will also address key issues concerning regional security, the two-state solution, keeping Israel a Jewish and democratic state, and the Abraham Accords.

“There’s no secrets between our two countries,” Nides told Haaretz Weekly hosts Allison Kaplan Sommer and Amir Tibon, at the Tel Aviv branch of the U.S. Embassy. “There’s no animosity. There’s no games being played.”

Nides, a Minnesota native and self-described Jewish liberal, said the U.S. government is committed to combating Israel and Saudi Arabia’s common enemy – Iran. As part of his wider focus on regional security, Biden plans to help protect Israelis and Saudis from Iranian aggression.

“We’re all in the same boat here,” Nides said. “People feel a sense of anxiety in the region. We hope to continue working on these issues collectively, because there’s no better way than when you work together to be able to keep the security blanket closely held.”

Israel faced criticism from the United States for its relatively neutral stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But when Haaretz asked Nides to explain the U.S. government’s perspective, he said they are “very comfortable” with Israel’s position in the war.

“We’re also aware, as you all are, of the uniqueness of Israel’s position vis-à-vis their own security in northern Israel, given the idea of needing to deconflict with the Russians to go after Hezbollah, which threaten the security of the State of Israel,” Nides said. “So we’re both pushing understanding, we’re satisfied with what they’re doing.”

Given the unpredictability and ultimate dissolution of the Israeli government, Nides did not know until July 1 who would greet Biden as Israel’s prime minister. If it were Naftali Bennett or even Benjamin Netanyahu instead of Yair Lapid, Nides said Biden – who has met every Israeli premier since Golda Meir – would have remained unphased.

“Joe Biden is coming here for the Israeli people,” Nides said. “He’s not coming for one party or another. Joe Biden, this will be his 10th trip to Israel. Joe Biden calls himself a Zionist. Joe Biden loves Israel.”

US President Joe Biden speaking at the White House campus last week.Credit: NICHOLAS KAMM - AFP

Beyond Biden’s upcoming visit, Nides insisted he “doesn’t do politics anymore.” The ambassador aims to create a visa waiver program for Israelis to enter the United States without waiting in line for visa registration – a complicated project that’s been in the works for the past 15 years.

“I’ve had many calls from many Knesset members who said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get this done,’” Nides said. “I believe that to be the case. I’m confident because the Israeli people want this.”

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