U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have spoken by phone amid reports of a strained relationship between the two countries following Netanyahu’s close ties to the Trump administration.
A statement released on February 17 by the Israeli leader’s office said the two leaders discussed the “Iranian threat” as well as other issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
Netanyahu was one of the last leaders of a U.S. ally to receive a call from Biden since the U.S. president’s January 20 inauguration.
Netanyahu had close ties with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, who pushed what was seen as a heavily pro-Israel agenda that angered many Arab nations, along with some U.S. allies in Europe and elsewhere.
The prime minister is facing a tough fight in a legislative election scheduled for March 23. The relationship with Washington is of crucial importance to Israeli voters.
Netanyahu’s office was the first to announce the conversation and released a photo of a smiling prime minister holding a phone to his ear. The one-hour conversation was “warm and friendly,” his office said.
“The two leaders noted their long-standing personal connection and said that they would work together to continue strengthening the steadfast alliance between Israel and the U.S.,” the statement said.
It added that topics included “the Iranian threat” of developing nuclear weapons, efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic, and the desire to expand Israel's new deals establishing relations with Arab nations.
During his presidential campaign, Biden criticized Trump’s decision to pull out of the landmark 2015 nuclear accord that Iran signed with world powers. Netanyahu adamantly backed Trump’s move, which involved reinstating crushing sanctions on Iran, Israel’s main rival in the region.
Biden has publicly stated that Iran must adhere to its commitment under the 2015 deal before his administration will discuss the possibility of lifting sanctions.
Tehran, under the deal with the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France, and Britain, agreed to curbs on its uranium-enrichment program in return for the lifting of sanctions. Iran has always denied pursuing nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear program is strictly for civilian purposes.
Since Trump abandoned the agreement and reimposed sanctions, Tehran has gradually breached the deal's terms.