President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that the United States is “putting diplomacy first” in efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal, but if that fails Washington is “ready to turn to other options.”
Biden made the comments as the two sat down at the White House on August 27 for their first face-to-face meeting since Bennett was sworn in as prime minister in June.
The meeting, originally scheduled for August 26, was postponed by one day as Biden focused his attention on the aftermath of a suicide bomb attack at the Kabul airport that killed 13 U.S. troops and more than 100 Afghans.
Asked what other options Biden might be mulling if diplomacy to revive the nuclear deal fails, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to comment.
Bennett arrived at the White House aiming to dissuade Biden from returning the United States to the deal between Iran and world powers that was brokered in 2015 and scrapped in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump.
Bennett, the right-wing leader of a highly fragmented coalition government, expressed satisfaction that he and Biden are in agreement that Iran should never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.
“I was happy to hear your clear words, that Iran will never be able to have a nuclear weapon, and you emphasized that we will try the diplomatic way but that there’s other options that will work out,” Bennett said.
But the two leaders’ political positions on whether to rejuvenate the nuclear agreement likely will remain at odds.
Biden has made clear that he wants to find a way to salvage the 2015 landmark pact, but indirect talks between the United States and Iran have stalled, and Washington continues to maintain crippling sanctions on the country.
Bennett said granting Iran sanctions relief would give Iran more resources to support Israel’s enemies in the region.
Since the U.S. withdrawal from the accord, Tehran has abandoned several limitations on its nuclear enrichment.
Iran maintains its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
Bennett's Washington visit comes weeks after Ebrahim Raisi was sworn in as Iran’s new president.
Raisi, 60, a conservative cleric with close ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has suggested he'll engage with the United States. But he has ruled out negotiations aimed at limiting Iranian missile development and support for regional militias -- matters that the Biden administration wants to address in a new accord.
Biden and Bennett also differ over the creation of a Palestinian state, but played down the differences. Bennett opposes it and supports expansion of settlements in the West Bank. Biden supports a two-state solution and opposes expansion of settlements.
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