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Bennett discusses Iran with visiting US Senator Lindsey Graham

PM meets US lawmaker in Jerusalem as nuclear talks heat up; House Speaker Pelosi to visit Knesset Wednesday

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) and US Senator Lindsey Graham meet at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, February 14, 2022. (Koby Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) and US Senator Lindsey Graham meet at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, February 14, 2022. (Koby Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with US Senator Lindsey Graham at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on Monday morning.

Their discussion focused on “the Iranian threat, which is faced by both Israel and the US, and ways to deal with it,” according to a readout by the PMO.

“They also discussed the security challenges in the Middle East and ways to strengthen bilateral cooperation,” the statement added.

After the meeting, Bennett thanked Graham, a Republican, for being “a true friend of Israel in both good times and in more challenging moments.”

The meeting came as Iran on Monday said talks with world powers in Vienna to restore the 2015 nuclear deal are “complicated and difficult” but have not hit an impasse.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh acknowledged during a news conference in Tehran that key issues were still under discussion.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh during a press conference in Tehran, on February 22, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

US President Joe Biden is in a tough spot over the talks, gambling on a successful outcome but facing growing bipartisan concern that even if a deal is reached it may be insufficient to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.

US negotiator Rob Malley and National Security Council envoy Brett McGurk said last week that Iran could have enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon within weeks if it wants to, indicating a growing urgency to reach a deal soon.

Supporters of a negotiated solution warn that if Iran becomes a nuclear threshold state, that could spark a military confrontation, with Israel or the United States conducting preemptive strikes on Iran.

Israel, which opposes the nuclear deal, has repeatedly said it reserves the right to strike Iran if it is facing an existential nuclear threat, whether or not the JCPOA is revived.

Two Israeli and one American F-16 fighter jets fly alongside one another during a joint exercise in southern Israel in January 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

Earlier this month, it was reported that a US official had attended a recent classified Israel Air Force drill simulating a “massive attack” on Iran’s nuclear program. The drill involved dozens of jets and included various scenarios, including mid-air refueling, long-range strikes and responses to anti-aircraft missiles.

The unusual participation of a US official was touted by the report as evidence of a shift in the American approach to Iran’s nuclear program.

Meanwhile, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to visit Israel on Wednesday. She will be greeted in an official ceremony at the Knesset, where she will observe plenum deliberations.

Considered a staunch supporter of Israel, Pelosi has previously stated that “Israel has always been bipartisan in the Congress of the United States, and it continues to be so.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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