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Biden Begins Mideast Tour In Israel With Tough Talk On Iran Nuclear Program

July 13, 2022

U.S. President Joe Biden began his first visit to the Mideast since taking office by telling Israeli leaders he is determined to stop Iran's nuclear program.

Biden arrived in Israel on July 13 with Iran high on the agenda in his visits with U.S. allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, both bitter rivals of the Islamic republic.

Biden will discuss Western powers' negotiations with Iran on reviving the landmark 2015 nuclear deal during his three days in Israel, administration officials have said.

Biden, who was vice president when the original deal was struck, has made reviving the deal a priority of his presidency.

Setting the tone for his visit in Israel, he used tough language in an interview with an Israeli broadcaster taped before he left Washington.

"The only thing worse than the Iran that exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons," Biden said in the interview with Israel's Channel 12. Asked about using military force against Iran, Biden said, "If that was the last resort, yes."

The U.S. and Israel are expected to unveil a joint declaration on July 14 cementing their close military ties and reiterating calls to take military action to halt Iran's nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid made clear that Iran's nuclear program was the top agenda item.

"We will discuss the need to renew a strong global coalition that will stop the Iranian nuclear program," said Lapid as he greeted Biden at the airport.

Biden said he would not remove Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IGRC) from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, even if that kept Iran from rejoining the Iran nuclear deal.

Sanctions on the IRGC have been a sticking point in negotiations to revive the nuclear agreement formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The deal was abandoned by then-President Donald Trump in 2018. Indirect talks for the U.S. to reenter it have stalled as Iran has made demands that the U.S. has said are beyond the scope of the deal, which placed significant restrictions on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Iran has said its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

At the airport, Israeli President Isaac Herzog thanked Biden for championing Israel during his more than 50 years in public office. He then reminded him of the "security challenges emanating directly from Iran and its proxies, threatening Israel and its neighbors and endangering our region."

Underscoring that threat, Biden's hosts briefed him immediately after he arrived on the country's U.S.-funded Iron Dome and new Iron Beam missile defense systems.

Biden will spend two days in Jerusalem for talks with Israeli leaders, then meet Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in the occupied West Bank.

Biden said he will emphasize in the talks his continued support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but acknowledged that outcome likely wouldn't be feasible "in the near term."

In Saudi Arabia, Biden is expected to press for further normalizing of relations between Israel and the Saudis, historic enemies that both oppose Iran's moves to increase influence in the region.

Biden will visit the Saudi port city of Jeddah on July 15 to meet with King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, who is widely known by his initials MBS.

Trump had close relations with the Saudis, but those ties have frayed since Biden took office, with his administration taking a harder line on Riyadh's human rights record.

Based on reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/biden-israel-saudi- arabia-iran-nuclear-deal/31941031.html

Copyright (c) 2022. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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