WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden's first call with a leader in the Middle East will be with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and "it will be soon," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.
Psaki attempted to clarify the matter when addressing her remarks last week on Israel's status as a U.S. ally.
"I know there's been some questions about when the president will speak with Prime Minister Netanyahu, so let me confirm for you that his first call with a leader in the region will be with Prime Minister Netanyahu, it will be soon. I don't have an exact date for you but it is soon," Psaki said.
"Israel is of course an ally. Israel is a country where we have an important strategic security relationship, and our team is fully engaged, not at the head of state level, quite yet but very soon. But our team is fully engaged having constant conversations at many levels with the Israelis," she added.
The remarks come amid concerns that Biden is sending a message to the Israeli government after not calling during his first several weeks in office.
An official close to the Biden administration told Haaretz that it's "really extraordinary" that some are attempting to make an issue of the lack of a phone call. “When Bibi came to Washington, D.C., for what was essentially a campaign photo-op at the White House under extraordinary circumstances with the COVID emergency, he didn’t even reach out to the Biden camp. He stood by Trump and didn’t even place a call to Biden,” the official said. “He has a history of meddling in U.S. politics, including with Mitt Romney, and he did the same thing with Trump, now he’s complaining about not getting a phone call? It takes some chutzpah to complain about the order of Biden’s international calls when you do this."
Psaki was asked last week if Israel and Saudi Arabia are considered "important allies" by the Biden administration, to which she replied: "Well, you know, again, I think we – there are ongoing processes and internal interagency processes – one that we, I think, confirmed [in] an interagency meeting just last week – to discuss a range of issues in the Middle East. ... We’re – we’ve only been here three and a half weeks, and I think I’m going to let those policy processes see themselves through before we give, kind of, a complete laydown of what our national security approaches will be to a range of issues."