Biden, Israeli PM seek to reset relations, narrow differences on Iran

257

Washington – August 26 (Online): President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday will seek to reset the tone of U.S.-Israeli relations in their first White House meeting and find common ground on Iran despite differences on how to deal with its nuclear program.
In talks overshadowed by the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the two leaders will try to turn the page on years of tensions between Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was close to former President Donald Trump, and the last Democratic administration led by Barack Obama with Biden as his vice president.
In what’s been planned as a low-key meeting, Bennett wants to move on from Netanyahu’s combative public style and instead manage disagreements constructively behind closed doors between Washington and its closest Middle East ally.
The visit gives Biden an opportunity to demonstrate business as usual with a key partner while contending with the complex situation in Afghanistan. Biden’s biggest foreign policy crisis since taking office has not only hurt his approval ratings at home but raised questions about his credibility among both friends and foes.
Topping the agenda is Iran, one of the thorniest issues between the Biden administration and Israel.
Bennett, a far-right politician who ended Netanyahu’s 12-year run as prime minister in June, is expected to press Biden to harden his approach to Iran and halt negotiations aimed at reviving the international nuclear deal 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. U.S.-Iran negotiations have stalled as Washington awaits the next move by Iran’s new hardline president.
Briefing reporters ahead of the meeting, the official said: “Since the last administration left the Iran nuclear deal, Iran’s nuclear program has just dramatically broken out of the box.”
The official said that if the diplomatic path with Iran fails, “there are other avenues to pursue,” but did not elaborate.
Bennett has been less openly combative but just as adamant as Netanyahu was in pledging to do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran, which Israel views as an existential threat, from building a nuclear weapon. Iran consistently denies it is seeking a bomb.
The two leaders are expected to speak briefly to a small pool of reporters during their Oval Office meeting but there will not be a joint news conference, limiting the potential for public disagreement.
Ends/Online