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Biden To Welcome Israeli PM To White House For Talks Expected To Focus On Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) and U.S. President Joe Biden (composite file photo)

U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett are scheduled to meet on August 26 as both leaders seek to reset the tone of U.S.-Israeli relations.

It will be the first White House meeting between Biden and Bennett, a far-right politician who became Israel’s prime minister in June, ending Benjamin Netanyahu's 12-year run in the post.

Topping the agenda is Iran, one of the thorniest issues between the Biden administration and Israel. Biden and Bennett will seek to find common ground despite differences on how to deal with Iran's nuclear program.

The two leaders also will try to turn the page on years of tensions between Netanyahu, who was close to former President Donald Trump, and the last Democratic administration led by then-President Barack Obama with Biden as vice president.

Before leaving Israel on August 24, Bennett said he would discuss with Biden "the leap that Iran’s nuclear program has taken in the last two to three years and discuss ways to counter it."

A senior U.S. administration official confirmed that Biden and Bennett will discuss Iran.

Since the Trump administration left the Iran nuclear deal, Iran's nuclear program has "dramatically broken out of the box, and it's accelerating from week to week," the official said on August 25 in a conference call with reporters.

Biden will tell Bennett that he shares Israel's concern that Iran has expanded its nuclear program but remains committed for now to diplomacy with Tehran, the official said.

Biden has made clear his desire find a path to salvage the 2015 landmark pact that was reached during the Obama administration.

Negotiations between world powers and Iran over reviving the deal have stalled as Washington awaits the next move by Iran’s new hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi.

The visit also gives Biden an opportunity to demonstrate that he is keeping his foreign policy going even while contending with the complex situation in Afghanistan.

Biden will discuss the U.S. commitment not just to Israel, but to U.S. partners in the Middle East in light of the situation in Afghanistan, the senior administration official said.

"It's important in the context of those events because what's happening there -- if anything, the end of America's military involvement in Afghanistan frees up resources and attention and ultimately allows us to better support our partners like Israel," the official said.

After their meeting, the two leaders are expected to speak briefly to a pool of reporters but there will not be a joint news conference, limiting the potential for public disagreement.

With reporting by Reuters and AP
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