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Alongside Bennett, Biden Says There Are 'Other Measures' if Iran Nuke Talks Fail

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U.S. President Joe Biden and Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chat during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. today.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chat during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. today.Credit: JONATHAN ERNST/ REUTERS
Updates
Jonathan Lis

Biden says there are 'other measures' if Iran nuke talks fail

President Joe Biden said that U.S.-Israel relationship is as strong as it can be after his private meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the White House.

Touching on Iran's nuclear program at a joint press conference, Biden said that "if diplomacy first doesn't work with Iran we will have other measures," referring to the ongoing nuclear talks with Tehran.

Biden added that the United States will ensure Iran will never have nuclear weapons.

"We’ll discuss ways to promote peace and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians," Biden added.

Speaking alongside Biden, Bennett said "Israel has always stood with U.S. unequivocally," and offered his condolences over the deadly attack at Kabul's airport that claimed the lives of at least 92 people, including 13 U.S. soldiers.

Bennett added that strategies to halt Iran's aggression and prevent it from becoming a nuclear threshold state have been formulated.

Bennett thanked Biden for his support for Israel, but stressed that Israel is not asking – nor will it ever ask – that American soldiers defend it.

"We will never outsource our security," Bennett said. "It's our responsibility to take care of our fate."

>> Click here for the full story

Jonathan Lis

Biden, Bennett begin meeting at White House

President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett began their first White House meeting on Friday, with Iran topping the agenda, even as the U.S. leader grappled with the aftermath of a deadly suicide bombing in Kabul during the chaotic U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan.

Biden and Bennett will later deliver statements to the media and hold a work meeting with their aides.

The two will be joined by members of the Israeli delegation: National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata, chief of staff of the Prime Minister’s Office Tal Gan-Zvi, Foreign Policy Adviser Shimrit Meir, Cabinet Secretary Shalom Shlomo and Ambassador to the U.S. Gilad Erdan.

Top American officials who will attend the meeting are U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk, U.S. envoy to Israel Michael Ratney and National Security Council Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa Barbara A. Leaf.

Bennett arrives at White House for Biden meeting

Naftali Bennett arrived at the White House on Friday afternoon for his first meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden since the two leaders took office.

Bennett and Biden held a phone call on Thursday night ahead of their rescheduled meeting.

Bennett expressed condolences for the attack on the Kabul airport that killed 13 U.S. service members, and Biden thanked him for his understanding over the change of plans.

In a statement early on Friday, Bennett's office said Biden called the Israeli premier and "thanked (him) for his understanding of the change in time of their meeting, in light of the events in Afghanistan".

Biden and Bennett's meeting, the first since the two men took office, is aimed at resetting the tone of U.S.-Israeli relations and finding common ground on Iran despite differences on how to deal with its nuclear program.

Bennett is expected to press Biden to harden his approach to Iran and halt negotiations aimed at reviving an international nuclear deal with Tehran that Trump abandoned.

Biden will tell Bennett that he shares Israel's concern that Iran has expanded its nuclear program but remains committed for now to diplomacy with Tehran, a senior administration official said.

Bennett-Biden meeting rescheduled to Friday

A White House meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was rescheduled to Friday, a White House official and an Israeli official said on Thursday.

U.S. and Israeli officials said earlier the meeting, originally scheduled for Thursday morning, was delayed while Biden held consultations with aides about two explosions near Kabul's airport amid a frantic evacuation effort from Afghanistan.

Jonathan Lis

Bennett-Biden meeting delayed over Kabul attack

The White House said President Joe Biden's meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, scheduled for 6:30 P.M. (Israel time) was delayed due to the bombing attack near Kabul airport.

An Israeli official, speaking in condition of anonymity, said the talks were still expected to be held later in the day but did not yet have a scheduled time.

Explosion hits Kabul airport shortly before Biden-Bennett meeting

There has been an explosion outside the Kabul airport, the Pentagon press secretary said on Thursday, adding that it was unclear whether there were casualties amid the large evacuation effort in Afghanistan's capital.

U.S. President Joe Biden has been briefed on the explosion, according to a White House official. Biden was in a meeting with security officials about the situation in Afghanistan, where the United States is in the final steps of ending its 20-year war, when the explosion was first reported, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The United States has been racing to airlift its citizens and some Afghan citizens from Kabul before its military is set to fully withdraw from Afghanistan on August 31.

Ben Samuels

Senior U.S. officials warn: Other avenues to pursue if Iran nuclear talks fail

WASHINGTON - Ahead of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, senior American officials said that the U.S. is prepared to take alternative steps if ongoing talks surrounding Iran's nuclear program fail.

"We, of course, committed to a diplomatic path.  We think that is the best way to put a ceiling on the program and roll back the gains that Iran has made over recent years on the nuclear side. But obviously, if that doesn't work, there are other avenues to pursue," one senior U.S. official said.

The official acknowledged that "Iran will be a big topic of discussion because Iran is a threat to Israel, and we are 100 percent committed to the security of Israel — no ifs, ands, or buts," adding that Biden and Bennett will also discuss Iran's "destabilizing activities in the region and particularly a very effective bilateral program we've set up with the Israelis during a strategic consultation group that we had with them a couple of months ago on countering Iranian UAVs."

The official further noted that all the data points surrounding the current state of Iran's nuclear program are alarming, though "at the same time, we have not lifted any sanctions, and we have not done anything because we've been very clear that sanctions relief will come through Vienna.  So, obviously, Iran has a new president, forming a new cabinet, and we'll see if we're back at the table in Vienna, in short order, and see how things go."

"Our policy towards Iran is not all focused on the Vienna track.  It’s a multifaceted, multidimensional policy of pressure diplomacy and a number of other tools and deterrence," they added.

The official also stressed U.S. commitment to Israel amid the current events in Afghanistan, saying "I think that's quite important. It's important in the context of those events because what's happening there — if anything, the end of America's military involvement in Afghanistan frees up resources and attention and ultimately allows us to better support our partners like Israel."

The senior U.S. officials also praised Israel's improved ties with Egypt and Jordan (both in mediating the recent outbreak of violence and since Bennett took office), the deepening ties between Israel and the Arab countries that hold normalized relations with it, and the agreement with Qatar and the UN on transferring financial aid to Gaza.

"There's a lot of progress on the diplomatic front that we are very actively pursuing and facilitating as best we can behind the scenes. But it's all being led by Prime Minister Bennett and his team, and Foreign Minister Lapid and his entire cabinet.  And our cooperation with this cabinet, I think, could not be more multifaceted and constructive," they said.

Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is expected Thursday to meet with President Joe Biden for the first time since taking office.

According to a political source, Bennett plans to present Biden with a clear strategy to restrain Iran and is expected to tell Biden that Israel reserves the right to take unilateral action against Iran if it feels its security is under threat.

Jonathan Lis

An initiation ceremony under Netanyahu's shadow | Analysis

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is scheduled to meet with President Joe Biden in the White House Thursday evening Israel time, in their first official visit since taking office.

Although Bennett has placed the Iranian issue at the center of his meeting with Biden, political figures say it will be an “initiation ceremony” for the diplomatically inexperienced new prime minister, in Israel’s most important political arena. Bennett will try to establish a personal and direct channel of communication with Biden.

“The picture that will emerge from this visit is the important event,” one foreign policy official told Haaretz. “It’s a clear signal to Iran and world leaders that the new prime minister receives an American embrace and the same support from the White House as his predecessors. There’s also an important message to Israelis about Bennett’s standing as a prime minister in the post-Netanyahu era: The change of government in Israel has not damaged the unity of interests between the two countries, just the opposite,” said the official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.

Click here to read the full analysis...

Jonathan Lis

Bennett and Blinken meet, agree on importance of including Israel in U.S. visa waiver program

"I bring a new spirit from Israel ... a spirit of unity," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at their meeting Wednesday in Washington.

"This is the same spirit I want to bring to our relationship, of cooperation, of goodwill, of friendship," Bennett continued, describing Israel as a place where people who harbor different thoughts and opinions "work together ... to find common ground," which he said "seems to be working."

Iran, nuclear weapons, regional stability and climate change would be the main topics of discussion, Bennett said, noting that Israel's high-tech sector can contribute to moving the needle forward on climate change.

According to a State Department readout following the meeting, Blinken and Bennett "agreed on the importance of working toward Israel’s inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program in order to benefit both U.S. citizens and Israeli citizens." Blinken emphasized that both Israelis and Palestinians "alike deserve equal measures of freedom, prosperity, and dignity" in their own right, as well as to advance a two-state solution.

During their meeting, Bennett and Blinken also emphasized the strength and importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship and regional security issues, including Iran, with Blinken reiterating the U.S. commitment to Israel's security, read the readout.

Earlier, before the closed-door portion of their meeting began, the premier also conveyed his gratitude to the White House for hosting the Israeli delegation "during these busy days," reiterated that "Israel has no stronger and more reliable ally than the United States" and affirmed that the United States can count on Israel to "have its back."

Blinken told Bennett that Biden has known and worked with every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir, and "is especially looking forward to meeting you, his new partner."

Like Bennett, Blinken emphasized the strength of the alliance between the two nations: "That partnership is founded on the proposition that our two countries, working together, have a very important and powerful common agenda and our commitment to that partnership, to Israel's security is, and always will always be unshakable."

Blinken added that they are looking forward to discussing the challenges faced by both countries, particularly regional security and Iran, "but also on a more positive note, the relationship that Israel is developing with other countries in the region," and other challenges, including Israel's relationship with the Palestinians.

Jonathan Lis

Bennett, Austin discuss ways to restrain Iran

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin discussed regional, political and security issues, chief among them ways to curb Iran's regional aggression and progress in the Iranian nuclear program, Bennett's office said in a statement.

Bennett thanked Austin for the close cooperation between Israel and the United States on security matters, and stressed that he sees the further strengthening of ties between the two nations as deeply important, the statement added.

Bennett also affirmed that alongside the strategic alliance between the United States and Israel, Israel will continue to assert its right to maintain its security dominance in the Middle East, and will do whatever is necessary in this regard.

Prior to the meeting, Austin said that Washington is committed to strengthening strategic ties with Israel.

President Joe Biden's administration is also committed to having the Iron Dome anti-missile system continue to protect Israel's citizens, Austin added.

Austin reiterated that the U.S. wants to ensure security for Israelis.

Jonathan Lis

U.S. demands Hamas restraint as Bennett set to meet Biden, Israeli source says

An Israeli source said that Washington understands that Hamas is inflaming the region and that "the United States is conveying messages in all relevant channels and are demanding that Hamas act with restraint."

According to the source, Bennett will raise the Palestinian issue in his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. "Our goal is for the Americans to understand that the prime minister's line is preserving stability, without reality-changing steps."

The source added that, as Bennett told The New York Times, "there will be no construction freeze of settlements in the West Bank, but there also won't be annexation."

The source further said that "[t]here will be no diplomatic negotiations" with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and that "Israel's interest is stabilizing the Palestinian population's situation."

new-hdc-logo

Bennett meets with AIPAC CEO in Washington

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with AIPAC's CEO, Howard Kohr, and thanked him for the pro-Israel lobby group's steadfast support for Israel.

Bennett told Kohr that AIPAC has a main role in strengthening Israel's standing in the United States.

Kohr and Bennett also discussed the political, security and economic challenges Israel is facing.

Israel sees slowdown in Iran nuke program as Tehran tops agenda in Biden-Bennett talks

Israeli defense officials have been seeing a slowdown in the progress of Iran's nuclear program over the past three months, but are concerned about Tehran's decision to enrich uranium to 60 percent. They attribute this to the renewal of talks between Iran and the United States and Europe, rather than a lack of capabilities or recent damage to production plants.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is expected to tell U.S. President Joe Biden in their meeting on Thursday that the Israeli position on Iran is that Jerusalem has the right to take unilateral action against Tehran if it believes the country is under threat.

Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, touched on the subject in a press briefing on Wednesday.

"The progression of the Iranian nuclear program has led the IDF to accelerate its operational plans," he said, adding that the effort to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is part of a military campaign that the military is conducting "systematically and in various ways in order to limit Iran's influence in the Middle East."

>> Click here to read the full report

Technicians at the Arak heavy water reactor's secondary circuit, as officials and media visit, December 2019.Credit: Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP
Aluf Benn

'Bennett, what about the Palestinians?' | Analysis

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has promised change and a new spirit, but en route to Washington, he stuck to the tradition that his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, practiced over many years – talking a lot about Iran and remaining silent when it comes to the Palestinians.

Perhaps he hopes that his host, President Joe Biden, hasn't heard about them. At their White House meeting on Thursday, Bennett may try to run out the clock talking about Iran until Biden has no time left to talk about the occupation, the settlements in the West Bank or about Gaza, where tensions are rising.

Click here to read the full analysis... 

Jonathan Lis

Bennett to meet Blinken, Austin

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has arrived in Washington on Wednesday, and is set for a series of meetings with top U.S. officials, ahead of his Thursday meeting with President Joe Biden.

At 5 P.M. Israel time, Bennett will meet with AIPAC's CEO, Howard Kohr, and the pro-Israel lobby's president, Betsy Berns Korn.

Starting at 8 P.M., he will meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

haaretz-weekly-new

Why failed Iranian talks could be Israel’s worst-case scenario

Host Simon Spungin is joined by senior U.S. analyst Alon Pinkas and senior military commentator Amos Harel to look ahead to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s upcoming visit to the White House – the first meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and the new Israeli leader.

LISTEN: Bennett meets Biden. This could be Israel’s worst-case scenario

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alon pinkas

Analysis: A good tone is all Israel needs

On his first trip to Washington, new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has a rare opportunity to forge a good and intimate relationship with President Joe Biden despite a host of potentially contentious issues that are bound to come up.

To lay the ground for this to actually happen, Bennett needs to make interdisciplinary preparations: the issues, psychology and atmosphere of the meeting, when to be adamant and when to just listen, the prioritizing of Israeli interests and how and when they’re presented, and to show up with a deep understanding of U.S. interests and an assessment of what Biden’s agenda for the meeting is.

>> Click here to read the full analysis

U.S. President Joe Biden speaking at the White House on Wednesday. Credit: Leah Millis / Reuters
Jonathan Lis

Bennett heralds 'new spirit'

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday he was confident of the "new spirit" in Israeli-U.S. ties.

"There are new leaderships in the U.S. and in Israel," Bennett told reporters at Ben-Gurion International Airport. "I bring with me from Jerusalem a new spirit that is founded on years of special connection between the two countries. I'm certain this new spirit of cooperation already has and will keep on leading to great achievements for Israel and its security."

Bennett added that Iran will top the agenda in his Thursday meeting with Biden, but said they will also discuss the coronavirus pandemic, and Israel's world-first booster vaccine drive, the climate crisis and economic issues.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett prepares to board a flight to Washington at Tel Aviv airport, on Tuesday.Credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO

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