Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held talks with U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Wednesday, as Israel reaffirmed its opposition to negotiations on reviving a 2015 agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.
The two discussed the negotiations between Iran and the major powers in Vienna and several additional issues of joint interest to both countries.
Earlier, the national security advisers of Israel and the U.S. – Dr. Eyal Hulata and Jake Sullivan – held a working meeting.
Prime Minister Bennett said at the start of the meeting, “Welcome to Jerusalem, Jake. I’m very happy to have you over, and I know that we’re just a couple of days before the holidays, so I all the more appreciate you coming over. You probably expected good weather here in Israel and you landed right into a storm.
“I want to say that the relationship between my government and the Biden administration, between Israel and the United States, is as strong as ever. And being so strong and having this meaningful friendship means that we can also talk openly and candidly about all the shared challenges that we’re facing. And that’s what we’re going to do.
“These days are pretty important. What happens in Vienna has profound ramifications for the stability of the Middle East and the security of Israel for the upcoming years. And that’s why it’s such a timely meeting.”
Sullivan said, “Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, and I bring personal greetings from President Biden and from Dr. Biden, who wanted me to extend to you their warm wishes.
“And they asked me to come here this week, because at a critical juncture for both of our countries on a major set of security issues, it’s important that we sit together and develop a common strategy, a common outlook, and find a way forward that fundamentally secures your country’s interests and mine. And we believe those interests, like the values upon which our countries are built, are deeply shared and deeply felt.
“And the President also wanted me to convey to you a deeply personal thanks for that hard moment in August, when you were in the United States and we had suffered a major terrorist attack in Afghanistan, and you stepped up with support, both personal and on behalf of your country. And that moment – I think like this moment we’re in now – just reflects the extent to which, when Israel and the United States stand together, we stand stronger, and that’s the spirit with which I’m here today.
“So thank you personally and thank you to the people of Israel, and I’m looking forward to a good meeting.”
Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Mike Herzog and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides, along with other senior officials, attended the expanded meeting.
Israel has criticized talks in Vienna to restore the 2015 deal negotiated between Tehran and major powers that saw Iran agree to curbs on its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
Bennett has called for the negotiations to be halted, accusing Iran of “nuclear blackmail” and charging that revenue it gained from sanctions relief would be used to acquire weapons to harm Israelis.
Sullivan was also slated to meet with Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, as well as his Israeli counterpart, head of Israel’s National Security Council Eyal Haluta.
Sullivan, joined by the National Security Council’s Middle East director Brett McGurk and other U.S. officials, arrived in Israel on Tuesday. Sullivan has already met with President Yitzchak Herzog.
In their meeting Tuesday evening, Herzog expressed his concerns about Iran’s program toward nuclear weapons as the Vienna talks were ongoing, and told Sullivan that the Middle East was split into “coalitions” – one comprising Israel and the Arab states that sought peace and were fighting Iran and working toward a better world for their citizens, and Iran’s “coalition of terrorism” that sought to destabilize the region.
Herzog thanked President Joe Biden for his friendship for Israel.
Sullivan is also expected to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to discuss strengthening U.S.-Palestinian relations, a Biden administration official said.
The visit comes as Channel 13 reported Tuesday that Biden had been dodging phone calls from Bennett. According to the report, the cold shoulder is a response to Bennett’s refusal to stop construction in the settlements in general and the Atarot neighborhood of Yerushalayim in particular.
Bennett’s office denied the report, and some two weeks ago, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the relations between Biden and Bennett were good.