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Bennett and visiting Mike Pence meet, discuss Iran and Ukraine

Former US vice president, seen as a potential 2024 presidential contender, blasts White House for ‘unconscionable’ decision to continue negotiating Iran deal alongside Russia

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) meets with former US vice president Mike Pence in Jerusalem, on March 8, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) meets with former US vice president Mike Pence in Jerusalem, on March 8, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Former US vice president Mike Pence visited Israel on Tuesday, meeting with both Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog.

Pence, who served under former US president Donald Trump in 2017-2021, sat down with Bennett in Jerusalem on Tuesday and “discussed the nuclear agreement and its implications, as well as the situation in Ukraine,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Earlier in the day, Pence met with Herzog, who thanked the former vice president for his “friendship and support and for always standing with Israel.”

He also visited the Western Wall on Tuesday, accompanied by Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch.

Pence landed in Israel on Monday accompanied by his wife, tweeting: “@KarenPence and I are truly blessed to be back in the Holy Land. America Stands With Israel!”

In a video interview with the Israel Hayom daily before his arrival, the former US vice president criticized the White House for its efforts to revive the Iran deal — particularly now.

President Isaac Herzog (right) meets with former US vice president Mike Pence in Jerusalem on March 8, 2022. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Pence told the newspaper that “as the travesty unfolds on the landscape of Ukraine, it is just unconscionable that the American administration is at the same time negotiating at the side of the Russians to restart the Iran nuclear deal. It would be bad in a peace time to be restarting the Iran nuclear deal.

“To literally be working with the Russians to achieve some — once again, deeply flawed and dangerous — agreement with the ayatollahs in Iran is just utterly unacceptable. And I believe that particularly at such a time as this, the administration in the United States should not be working with Russia to ease sanctions or in any way put Iran back among the community of nations.”

The original 2015 nuclear deal with Iran was forged under former president Barack Obama. In 2018, Trump pulled out of the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran, triggering Tehran to ramp up its nuclear activities.

US President Joe Biden pledged to rejoin the deal, and diplomats have been working for months in Vienna to reach an agreement, with many stating over the past week that the talks were just days away from completion. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine has complicated efforts, as world leaders have heavily criticized Moscow, which nevertheless remains one of the key partners in the negotiations.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday that Russia is continuing to take part in the talks.

“We continue to work to see if we can come back to mutual compliance with Iran on the deal. Russia continues to be engaged in those efforts and it has its own interest in ensuring that Iran is not able to acquire a nuclear weapon,” Blinken said during a visit to Estonia.

On Wednesday, Pence is slated to receive an honorary doctorate from Ariel University in the West Bank “in recognition of his steadfast contributions and achievements to strengthen the United States and the State of Israel,” according to the university.

The former vice president has long been considered a potential candidate for a presidential run in 2024. In recent weeks, Pence has been increasingly willing to challenge Trump — a dramatic departure from his deferential posture as vice president.

Over the weekend he declared that there is no room in the Republican party “for apologists for Putin,” and also appeared to push back at Trump’s repeated, debunked claims that the 2020 election was stolen. “We can only win if we are united around an optimistic vision for the future based on our highest values,” said Pence. “We cannot win by fighting yesterday’s battles, or by relitigating the past.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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