President Joe Biden sought to assure Israel that he would not tolerate a nuclear Iran as he met with outgoing Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Monday amid a major shakeup in Israeli politics and growing angst in Tel Aviv over the U.S. administration’s effort to reenter the Iran nuclear deal.
Biden noted that he had ordered airstrikes a day earlier targeting facilities the U.S. military says were used by Iran-backed militia groups near the border between Iraq and Syria. The rhetoric seemed to underscore that he would remain tough on malign Iran activity even as he seeks a diplomatic track to stem Tehran’s nuclear program.
“What I can say to you is that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon on my watch,” Biden said at the White House meeting.
The meeting with Rivlin, who is making his final foreign trip of his presidency, took place just weeks after Naftali Bennett became Israel’s new prime minister, replacing Binyamin Netanyahu. The Biden administration, meanwhile, has intensified efforts to revive Iran’s 2015 accord with world powers to limit Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. Former President Donald Trump, with Netanyahu’s backing, scrapped the accord in 2018.
Biden said he hoped to meet the new prime minister at the White House “very soon.”
Rivlin is set to leave office on July 7 after a seven-year term. Yitzchak Herzog, a former parliament member who most recently headed a nonprofit that works closely with the government to promote immigration to Israel, will take over as Israeli president.
Biden has low hopes, at least for the moment, of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, according to an official familiar with Biden administration deliberations.
The meeting with Rivlin comes one day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Rome with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
Aviv Kochavi, chief of staff of Israel Defense Forces, met last week with Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and other senior national security officials. Kochavi reiterated Israel’s opposition to efforts by the Biden administration to revive the 2015 accord.
Administration officials, however, have countered in talks with Kochavi and others in the new Israeli government that it’s worth giving diplomacy a shot at stopping Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapons system, even if it’s not guaranteed, the official said.
President Joe Biden meets with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, June 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)