Visiting US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid met in Jerusalem on Thursday, where they discussed stopping Iran’s nuclear program and building a coalition of moderate nations in the Middle East among a series of issues of concern between the two countries.
“Yes, Mr. President, of course, we… also talked shop, about Saudi Arabia and your trip there, which is extremely important to Israel — trying to build a more moderate coalition here in the Middle East, long needed,” said Lapid after the meeting, sitting beside Biden.
“We have discussed the Iranian threat — and what we think is the right thing to do in order to make sure, which is something we share, there will be no nuclear Iran. This is not only a threat to Israel but to the [whole] world. And we discussed some other issues we’re going to keep to ourselves,” Lapid said.
Biden said the two leaders “talked about how important it was, [and] I talked about how important it was from my perspective, for Israel to be totally integrated into the region, and complete its integration.”
He emphasized that “the vast majority of the American public, not just my administration, is completely devoted to your security, without any if, ands or buts — without any doubts about it.”
Lapid stressed to Biden that Iran will not agree to a stronger nuclear deal without a credible military threat, and said that at some point the procrastination by Tehran in the talks must end.
The prime minister told Biden that he believes Iran is playing for time and the US must impose serious sanctions on Tehran to get them to return to the negotiating table.
For his part, Biden told Lapid that Washington does not want to be surprised by any Israeli announcements about building settlements.
During an official visit to Israel by Biden in 2010, while serving as US vice president, the Interior Ministry announced that 1,600 housing units would be built in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood of East Jerusalem, leaving Washington fuming.
The one-on-one meeting between Lapid and Biden, which ran over time, was followed by broader talks that included advisers and other senior officials.
After their meeting, Lapid also joked that the two talked about baseball — a long talk even though he knows nothing about baseball, he said. He further quipped that “we didn’t even mention Iran or Saudi Arabia.”
The two leaders are expected to sign a joint declaration later Thursday that will include the US administration’s backing for extending the massive defense package Washington provides to the Jewish state, according to a senior US official.
The $38 billion memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed in 2016 under the Obama administration when Biden was vice president. The 10-year agreement went into effect two years later, so it is not even halfway through its time, but such MOUs take time to negotiate and so are planned years in advance.
The senior US official briefing reporters Wednesday said the joint declaration would “note our ongoing support for [the 2016 MOU] and support for extending it at an appropriate time.”
The declaration reaffirms “the unbreakable bonds between our two countries and the enduring commitment of the United States to Israel’s security.”
Furthermore, the statement included a firm US pledge to never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and underscores that Washington is prepared to “use all elements of its national power” to ensure that Tehran is kept from the bomb.
The two then took part in the first virtual meeting of leaders in the I2U2 group along with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UAE President Mohammed Bin Zayed.
The leaders announced a pair of massive collaborative projects in the fields of food security and clean energy after their virtual meeting, including $2 billion for agricultural parks in India that Abu Dhabi will help fund and that will use Israeli technologies.
The joint statement said the four countries would aim to “harness the vibrancy of our societies and entrepreneurial spirit to tackle some of the greatest challenges confronting our world, with a particular focus on joint investments and new initiatives in water, energy, transportation, space, health and food security.”
The I2U2 countries also will utilize their respective private sectors to advance low-carbon development pathways, improve public health and access to vaccines, jointly create new solutions for waste treatment, and promote the development of green technologies, the communique said.
The countries stressed their support for Israel’s integration in the region, drawing a connection between the Abraham Accords normalization agreements and the formation of forums such as the I2U2. They also welcomed other new regional groupings such as the Negev Forum, which consists of Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt and the US.
Notably, the joint statement makes no mention of the Palestinians. The US in the past has pressed for the inclusion of a commitment to advance the two-state solution in such documents, though it might have been outnumbered by the three other countries, whose leaders have expressed less interest in publicly promoting the issue.
Biden and Lapid are scheduled to hold a press conference at the hotel, in which they will field two questions from US journalists and two from Israeli reporters.
Biden’s day is then to continue at the President’s Residence, where he will meet privately with President Isaac Herzog at 4:45 p.m.
While at the residence, Biden will hold a 15-minute meeting with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, after which Herzog will award Biden the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor in a festive ceremony.
The US president ends his day with Lapid at the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Games at 7:30 p.m.
On Friday, he will visit a hospital for Palestinians in East Jerusalem and meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
He will then fly directly to Saudi Arabia to participate in a summit of regional Arab leaders known as the GCC+3 before returning to the US on Sunday.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report