Blinken invites Lapid for Washington visit next month

Invitation comes during phone call between top diplomats and aims to follow up on progress made during Bennett’s White House meeting with Biden

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. (AP/Collage)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. (AP/Collage)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has invited Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to visit Washington, the State Department said Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters, spokesman Ned Price said the invitation was issued during a phone call between the two on Monday “to continue conversations following Prime Minister (Naftali) Bennett’s recent visit and to exchange Rosh Hashanah greetings.”

“Secretary Blinken invited Minister Lapid to visit Washington soon. The Secretary and the Minister also underscored the importance of consultations on regional and security topics, including on Afghanistan, Iran, and China,” Price said.

On Monday, Lapid’s office said that the foreign minister praised the Biden administration’s evacuation of Afghanistan, in what appeared to be an attempt to paper over criticism he voiced over the withdrawal last week.

Lapid and Blinken also discussed Israeli efforts to ease pressure in the Gaza Strip while maintaining security, and Iran’s nuclear program. The two agreed to meet next month, Lapid’s office said.

The call came days after Lapid publicly lobbed criticism at the Biden administration’s Afghanistan pullout, despite Bennett being fresh off a visit to Washington in which the administrations sought to display warm ties and a shift from the public tiffs of past governments.

In this August 21, 2021,file photo provided by the US Marines, US Marines with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command, provide assistance at an evacuation control checkpoint during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla/US Marine Corps via AP, File)

“The minister expressed his deep appreciation for the US effort in Afghanistan, especially with regard to the extraordinary evacuation operation,” Lapid’s office said in its readout of the call Monday.

Lapid told reporters on Wednesday that the withdrawal “was probably the right decision maybe that wasn’t performed in the right manner.”

“I think the entire globe was concerned, and first and foremost the Americans themselves. It didn’t happen the way it was supposed to happen,” he said.

The Biden administration has defended its operation to pull thousands of its own citizens and allies from Kabul despite a chaotic situation after the Taliban retook the Afghan capital, but has endured withering criticism.

While Israeli officials had reportedly expressed private misgivings about the way the US operation unfolded, Jerusalem had been careful to keep criticism quiet before Lapid’s comments, which came just days after Bennett returned from his first meeting with Biden at the White House.

Neither the State Department nor Foreign Ministry statements mentioned another bone of contention: Biden’s plans to reopen the US consulate in Jerusalem, which served as a de facto mission to the Palestinians before former US president Donald Trump closed it in 2019.

“We think it’s a bad idea and we’ve told America we think it’s a bad idea,” Lapid said about the plan on Wednesday.

Lapid said that the reopening “will send the wrong message, not only to the region, not only to the Palestinians, but also to other countries, and we don’t want this to happen.”

The United States Consulate General building in Jerusalem, March 4, 2019. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

The Foreign Ministry said that during the call, Blinken praised the recent steps taken by Israel to ease pressure on the Gaza Strip, including expanding its fishing zone to its furthest point in years and allowing thousands more workers from the enclave into Israel, despite ongoing nightly riots along the border.

Lapid told Blinken that Gaza occupies a “central place among Israel’s array of considerations.”

Lapid also said that Israeli policy seeks to maintain security for civilians along the Gaza border, while weakening Hamas, but does not seek to punish the Palestinian populace of the enclave ruled by the terror group.

Aside from expanding the Gaza Strip’s fishing zone to 15 nautical miles, Israel also said that it will allow more goods and construction materials into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom Crossing, and an additional 5 million cubic meters (1.3 billion gallons) of water will be allowed into the Strip, where aquifers have long since deteriorated.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Opposition chairman Yair Lapid in Jerusalem, on May 25, 2021. (Yair Lapid/Twitter)

Five thousand more workers will also be allowed into Israel from Gaza — on top of the 2,000 already permitted in — though only those who either had the coronavirus or have been vaccinated will be eligible, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians said in a statement.

The two also discussed the issue of Iran, with Lapid expressing Israel’s concern over the progress Iran has been making in its nuclear project, along with concern over the lack of oversight of Tehran’s efforts by the international community, the Foreign Ministry said.

Blinken wished Lapid a happy new year ahead of the Rosh Hashanah holiday and the two agreed to meet in October in the US, the latter’s office said.

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