Biden to visit Israel in the next few months, says White House

US president speaks to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett via phone about Iran, Jerusalem tensions; no firm date set for Biden trip to Jewish state

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as they meet in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Joe Biden will make his first visit to Israel as president in the coming months, the White House said, following a call with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday evening.

It was the second phone conversation between the pair in less than a month.

Bennett used the opportunity to update Biden on Israel’s efforts “to stop the violence and incitement in Jerusalem,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The two also discussed the Iranian nuclear threat, with the Israeli premier reiterating Jerusalem’s stance against the US heeding Iran’s demand to remove its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an American terror blacklist as part of ongoing negotiations between Tehran and world powers in Vienna to return to a nuclear deal under which Iran would at least temporarily halt its nuclear development in exchange for sanctions relief.

“I am sure that President Biden, who is a true friend of Israel and cares about its security will not remove the Revolutionary Guards from the [State Department’s] list of [Foreign] Terrorist Organizations,” Bennett told Biden, per the Israeli readout.

Bennett also wished the president a happy Easter.

“The president took note of ongoing efforts between Israeli and Palestinian officials to lower tensions and ensure a peaceful conclusion to the holy season of Ramadan,” the White House said.

“The president also accepted an invitation to visit Israel over the coming months.”

No specific date was given for Biden’s proposed trip to Israel, which would be his first as president. Biden last visited the country, as vice president, in 2016. Bennett met with Biden at the White House in Washington in August.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara meet with United States Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on March 9, 2016, during Biden’s official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The White House confirmed that the US president and Bennett discussed the Iranian issue, specifically “shared regional and global security challenges, including the threat posed by Iran and its proxies.”

Israeli National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata was scheduled to travel to Washington to meet his counterpart, Jake Sullivan, later this week to continue these discussions about Iran. The White House said Biden “welcomed the visit” from Hulata.

Last week, a top Israeli diplomat told Israeli journalists that Biden administration officials have notified their European counterparts that Washington does not plan to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the terror blacklist as part of the negotiations in Vienna.

The official said that the nuclear talks were at a standstill, largely due to the Iranian demand that Washington remove the IRGC from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Israel has lobbied publicly and privately against the move.

Despite the message the US has passed along to European negotiators, the Biden administration is still considering delisting part of the IRGC while keeping its expeditionary Quds Force on the FTO list, the Israeli official claimed. “We’re part of this conversation, but there isn’t a final answer yet.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price did indeed appear to reject the Iranian demand when pressed on it during a press briefing last Monday.

“If Iran wants sanctions lifting that goes beyond the JCPOA, they’ll need to address concerns of ours that go beyond the JCPOA,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said when asked about the Revolutionary Guards’ delisting. “They will need to negotiate those issues in good faith with reciprocity.”

As Iran has not expressed a willingness to budge on non-nuclear-related issues, Price’s remarks appeared to put to bed the possibility of a unilateral delisting by Washington, even if Tehran was making it a condition for returning to compliance with the JCPOA.

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