US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday signed a joint pledge to deny Iran nuclear weapons, a show of unity by long-divided allies on diplomacy with Tehran.
The commitment, part of a “Jerusalem Declaration” capping Biden’s first visit to Israel as president, came a day after he told a local TV station that he was open to the use of force as a “last resort.” against Iran.
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“We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” Biden said at a news conference after signing the declaration.
Washington and Israel have made separate veiled statements about a possible pre-emptive war with Iran, which denies seeking nuclear weapons, for years. However, it has been the subject of debate whether they have the capacity or the will to comply with this.
Thursday’s statement reaffirmed US support for Israel’s regional military advantage and its ability “to defend itself.”
“The United States emphasizes that an integral part of this pledge is a commitment never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and that it is prepared to use all elements of its national power to ensure that outcome,” the statement added.
Lapid presented this stance as a way to avoid open conflict.
“The only way to stop a nuclear Iran is if Iran knows that the free world will use force,” he said after the signing ceremony.
Speaking alongside him, Biden described preventing a nuclear Iran as “a vital security interest for Israel and the United States and, he would add, for the rest of the world as well.”
There was no immediate comment from Tehran.
In 2015, Iran signed an international agreement limiting its nuclear projects with bomb-making potential. In 2018, then-US President Donald Trump abandoned the pact as insufficient, a withdrawal welcomed by Israel.
Since then, Iran has stepped up some nuclear activities, setting a clock ticking as world powers try to return to a deal at the Vienna talks.
Israel now says it would support a new deal with stronger provisions. Iran has refused to submit to further restrictions.
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Beyond enhancing allies’ sense of deterrence and mutual commitment, the declaration’s projection of power may also offer Biden a boost as he continues his trip to Saudi Arabia on Friday. Riyadh has its own concerns about Iran, and Biden hopes to turn that into a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel under US auspices.
Earlier on Thursday, Biden told reporters that he and Lapid had discussed “how important it was, from my perspective, that Israel be fully integrated into the region.” Lapid, in turn, considered Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia “extremely important for Israel.”
Some Israeli and Arab Gulf officials believe the sanctions relief from the nuclear deal would provide Iran with much more money to support deputy forces in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. They are also skeptical that the Biden administration will do much to counter Iran’s regional activities.
One US official, when asked if Thursday’s statement was about buying some time with Israel as Washington seeks negotiations with Iran, said: “If Iran wants to sign the agreement that was negotiated in Vienna, we have made it very clear that we are prepared to do it. that. And at the same time, if they are not, we will continue to increase the pressure of our sanctions, we will continue to increase the diplomatic isolation of Iran.”
A senior Israeli official described the threat of military action as a means of avoiding war.
“(It) is a guarantee that the diplomatic, economic and legal efforts against Iran will be effective,” Defense Ministry Director General Amir Eshel told Israel’s Kan radio. “Iran has shown everyone that when pushed hard it knows how to stop and change its ways.”
The Jerusalem Declaration further committed the United States and Israel to cooperate on defense projects such as laser interceptors, as well as civilian technologies.
The United States was open to future defense grants to Israel, the statement said, reaffirming Washington’s interest in reviving talks on an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution.
The United States and Israel will sign a joint commitment to deny nuclear weapons to Iran
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