Biden and Lapid agree to halt Iran’s nuclear program, disagree on how

JERUSALEM (AP) — US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid stood side by side on Thursday and said they would not allow Iran to become a nuclear power. However, they split on how to get there.

Biden, in a joint press conference after a one-on-one meeting with the Israeli leader, said he still wanted to give diplomacy a chance. Moments earlier, Lapid insisted that words alone will not thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

As Biden suggested his patience with Iran was running low, he remained hopeful that Iran can be persuaded to join a dormant agreement intended to prevent him from making a nuclear weapon.

“I continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this outcome,” Biden said on day two of a four-day visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia. He also stressed during his first trip to the Middle East as president the importance of strengthening ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Hours before Biden would become the first American leader to fly directly from Israel to the kingdom, Saudi Arabia’s General Civil Aviation Authority announced early on Friday “the decision to open the airspace of the Kingdom to all air carriers that meet the Authority’s requirements for overflying.

It marked the end of its long-standing ban on Israeli airliners flying over its territory – a gradual step towards normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel that builds on the strong but informal ties that Israel’s enemies formerly have developed in recent years due to their shared concerns about Iran. growing influence in the region.

“President Biden salutes and commends the historic decision by the leadership of Saudi Arabia to open Saudi airspace to all civilian carriers without discrimination, a decision that includes flights to and from Israel,” said U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement Friday.

Biden’s emphasis on a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program contrasts with Lapid, who said Iran must face a real threat of force before it agrees to give up its nuclear ambitions.

“Words will not stop them, Mr. President. Diplomacy won’t stop them,” Lapid said. “The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that if it continues to develop its nuclear program, the free world will use force.”

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Lapid suggested he and Biden were on board, despite his harsher rhetoric toward Iran.

“I don’t think there’s a light between us,” he said. “We cannot allow Iran to go nuclear.”

Biden also said, “We won’t, let me repeat, we won’t allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has slammed the United States and “its regional allies” for stoking instability in the region, the official IRNA news agency reported.

“Any mistake by Americans and their allies in the region and around the world will be met with a harsh and regrettable response,” Raisi said.

Biden warned that his patience is running out for Iran to join the nuclear deal, a day after saying he would be prepared to use force against Tehran as a last resort. The president said the United States had mapped out a path for Iran’s leaders to return to the nuclear deal and was still awaiting a response.

“When that will happen, I’m not sure,” Biden said. “But we’re not going to wait forever.”

Resuscitating the Iran nuclear deal brokered by Barack Obama’s administration and scrapped by Donald Trump in 2018 was a key priority for Biden when he took office. But administration officials have grown increasingly pessimistic about the chances of bringing Tehran back into compliance..

Israeli officials have sought to use Biden’s first visit to the Middle East as president to point out that Iran’s nuclear program has gone too far and encourage the Biden administration to frustrate efforts to revive the deal.

Israel opposed the original nuclear deal because its limitations on Iran’s nuclear enrichment would expire and the deal did not address Iran’s ballistic missile program or military activities in the region.

Instead of the US re-entering the deal, Israel would prefer tough sanctions in hopes of leading to a more sweeping deal.

The one-on-one talks between Biden and Lapid marked the centerpiece of a 48-hour visit by Biden aimed at strengthening the already close relationship between the United States and Israel. The leaders issued a joint statement emphasizing military cooperation and a commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

In the joint statement, the United States said it was prepared to use “all elements of its national power” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium to 60% puritya technical step away from military-grade quality.

The joint statement could hold significant symbolic significance for Biden’s upcoming meeting with Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia as he seeks to bolster a regional alliance against Iran.

The US president, who is due to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Friday, said he also stressed to Lapid the importance of Israel becoming “fully integrated” in the region.

Israel under the Trump administration signed the Abraham Accords, declarations of diplomatic and economic normalization signed by Israel, Bahrain, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates that have been the Republican President’s foreign policy signature. For Israel, reaching such an agreement with the Saudis, an economic and Islamic epicenter in the Middle East, would be even more meaningful.

Lapid asked Biden to deliver a message on behalf of Israel to the Arab leaders he will meet in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: “Our hand is outstretched for peace.”

“Your visit to Saudi Arabia is important for Israel and for the region,” Lapid added. “For our security and for the future prosperity of the Middle East.”

The president will travel to Saudi Arabia after labeling the kingdom a “pariah” nation as a presidential candidate and last year released a US intelligence discovery that showed the kingdom’s de facto leader, Mohammed bin Salman , had likely approved the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based writer.

Biden declined to commit to mentioning Khashoggi’s murder during his meeting with the crown prince.

“I always bring up human rights,” Biden said at the press conference. “But my position on Khashoggi has been so clear. If anyone doesn’t understand him, in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, he’s been gone for a while. He hasn’t reaffirmed his position.

Thursday’s appearances with Lapid could give a boost to Israel’s prime minister, who serves in an interim post until elections in November. the fifth in less than four years. His main challenger is former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Lapid’s co-appearance with Biden could help restore his credentials as a statesman and leader. Biden met briefly behind closed doors with Netanyahu, with whom he had a rocky relationship.

Biden did not mention Israel’s upcoming election during the public portion of Thursday’s meeting with Lapid, but told reporters “we had a great start to a long relationship, God willing.”

Biden and Lapid also participated in a virtual summit with India and the United Arab Emirates, a collection of countries called I2U2. The United Arab Emirates has announced that it will help finance a $2 billion project supporting agriculture in India.

The president also received Israel’s highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Honor, from President Isaac Herzog.

Biden ended his day with a stop at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium to greet American athletes competing in the Maccabiah Games. Also known as the “Jewish Olympics”, it is the biggest sporting event in the country and held every four years for Israeli and Jewish athletes from around the world.

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Megerian reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem, Amir Vahdat in Tehran, and Darlene Superville and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

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