Blinken tells Lapid the US ‘very much appreciates’ Israeli mediation in Ukraine

Secretary stresses any initiative must ensure Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity; updates foreign minister on status of Iran talks in Vienna as Israel-opposed deal nears

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Riga, Latvia, on March 7, 2022. (Olivier Douliery/Pool/AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in Riga, Latvia, on March 7, 2022. (Olivier Douliery/Pool/AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked Israel for its efforts to end Russia’s war with Ukraine as he and his Israeli counterpart, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, met Monday in Latvia to discuss the conflict.

Blinken told Lapid that any initiative to try to halt the conflict would be welcome as long as it is consistent with US, NATO, and European principles and that Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity are respected.

Two days earlier, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow as Jerusalem tries its luck at mediating between Russia and Ukraine, given its unique status as an ally of both nations. While acknowledging that chances for success may be slim, Bennett said Israel has a “moral obligation” to try to broker peace.

“We very much appreciate the efforts that any of our close partners and friends and allies can make to see if there’s any opening to end the war, consistent, of course, with the principles that we’ve all established, starting with the Ukrainian Government and the Ukrainian people, who must have their sovereignty, their independence, and their territorial integrity,” Blinken told Lapid in front of reporters ahead of their closed-door meeting.

“I look forward to hearing your ideas, hearing about some of the engagements that Israel has had, but we appreciate all efforts by friends and allies to look for a diplomatic resolution,” he said.

Lapid, who flew to Latvia especially to brief Blinken on Bennett’s meeting with Putin and reiterate Israel’s concern at the prospect of a new nuclear deal with Iran, said the meeting was taking place “at the moment the world order is changing.”

Lapid clarified that while Israel is working to mediate between the sides, it will not mince words condemning Russia’s invasion.

That has indeed been the case for the foreign minister, who has been the most outspoken senior Israeli official regarding Russia’s conduct. Bennett, on the other hand, has avoided condemning Russia or its president, sufficing with statements expressing concern for the humanitarian situation, as he remains the only Western leader who has met with Putin since the start of the invasion. However, Bennett and Lapid have coordinated their stances with one another, a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel last week.

“Israel is totally committed to do everything possible to stop the war in Ukraine,” said Lapid on Monday. “We have condemned the Russian invasion, and we still do.  And Israel is a partner in the global effort to make sure and verify that this war must be stopped.

“The way to stop a war is to negotiate. Israel is speaking with both sides, both with Russia and Ukraine, and we are working in full coordination with our greatest ally, the United States, and our European partners.”

On Iran, Lapid noted Israel’s concerns about the nuclear negotiations potentially at the point of a breakthrough, saying Israel has well-known differences with the US on a deal, even if they share the end goal of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

“It’s no secret we have our differences on this, but it’s a conversation between allies that have a common goal, which is preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear threshold country, and to stop Iran’s ability to spread terror and instability all around the world,” Lapid said.

Blinken responded that both Israel and the United States are “united and committed to the proposition that Iran must never obtain a nuclear weapon.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (2nd-R) in Riga, Latvia on March 7, 2022. (Olivier Douliery/Pool/AFP)

The foreign minister said the latest events in Ukraine are a reminder that Israel cannot rely on others to defend itself.

Ukraine has called for military assistance during Russia’s invasion. Though many countries are supplying it with humanitarian aid, as well as some weaponry, world powers have repeatedly refused to intervene militarily, including by enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine to limit Russia’s ability to operate from the air.

Noting that Israel reserves the right to act militarily against Iran’s nuclear program, Lapid said, “This war is a reminder to Israel. We have friends, we have allies, but our security must always be in our hands only.”

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