Biden to Bennett: I prefer diplomacy with Iran, but ‘other options’ are available

Iran dominated Prime Minister’s first Oval Office visit; Biden promised to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Friday that diplomacy was his first option, but he would consider other options if his effort to revive the Iran nuclear deal fails.

Biden made the comments as the two sat down for their first face-to-face meeting since Bennett was sworn-in as prime minister in June.

“We’re putting diplomacy first and seeing where that takes us,” Biden said during an Oval Office meeting that was delayed by the suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan. “But if diplomacy fails, we’re ready to turn to other options.”

Asked what other options Biden might be mulling, White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment.

Israel’s Walla News reported that the Prime Minister promised not to publicly campaign against a U.S. return to the Iranian nuclear deal. According to Walla, Bennett made similar pledges to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

“These very days illustrate what the world would look like if a radical Islamic regime acquired a nuclear weapon; that marriage would be a nuclear nightmare for the entire world,” Bennett said in his remarks at the Oval Office. “Iran is the world’s number one exporter of terror, instability and human rights violations. And as we sit here right now, the Iranians are spinning their centrifuges in Natanz and Fordo. We’ve got to stop it. And we both agreed.”

Since the U.S. withdrawal from the deal in 2018, Tehran over time has abandoned every limitation the accord had imposed on its nuclear enrichment. Iran now enriches a small amount of uranium up to 63 percent, a short step from weapons-grade levels, compared with 3.67% under the deal. It also spins far more advanced centrifuges and more of them than were allowed under the accord, worrying nuclear nonproliferation experts. Iran claims its nuclear program is peaceful.

Although the agenda was dominated by Iran, other topics were discussed during their private meeting, which lasted 50 minutes, double the originally allotted time.

The issues of reopening the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem and Sheikh Jarrah were also raised.

“America had a consulate in Jerusalem for 130 years, but then they closed it,” said a diplomatic source quoted by the Jerusalem Post. There’s a difference between keeping the existing situation and making a change [by reopening the consulate]. If we allow the change, then more people will ask for it.”

Hebrew media reports said Biden plans to wait till after the Knesset passes a budget before pressuring Bennett on the consulate and Sheikh Jarrah.

Biden committed the U.S. to replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. During the Gaza conflict inMay, Palestinian terror groups sought to overwhelm the Iron Dome, firing more than 4,400 rockets and mortars at Israel during an 11-day period. In a likely reference to Afghanistan, the prime minister said that Israel will “never outsource its security” to the U.S. as he thanked Biden for U.S. military support.

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Regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace, both agreed that Israel can find ways to help bolster the Palestinian economy, ease passage through checkpoints, and take other steps to improve quality of life in the Palestinian Authority.

They also discussed efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Associated Press contributed to this report.