Biden, Lapid sign US-Israel pledge to deny Iran nuclear weapons

US president hopes Iranians will agree to a new pact, but refuses to wait 'for ever'

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US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday signed a pledge to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, including by force if needed.

Standing on matching lecterns with US and Israeli flags waving on twin LED screens in the basement of the Waldorf Astoria, Mr Biden vowed to protect Israel and deepen military co-operation as part of a new "Jerusalem Declaration" one day after telling local media that a "last resort" use of force against Iran was on the table.

"We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon," Mr Biden told a news conference following the signing of the declaration that stated that the US was "prepared to use all elements of its national power to ensure that outcome."

Mr Biden said he was seeking to deepen the Obama administration's record $38 billion, 10-year commitment to Israeli security with new collaboration on defence projects such as laser interceptors.

“We will make sure Israel can defend itself by itself.”

The US leader spoke at length of his country's long and close relationship with Israel and said: "We're here to stay. Like it or not, we're here."

Hours after the press conference on Thursday, Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi said his country would have a "harsh and regrettable" response to any mistake from Washington and its allies.

While indirect talks between the US and Iran remain at loggerheads, Mr Biden once again said he hoped Iran would agree to a new pact and that diplomacy was the best way to ensure Iran didn't make nuclear weapons. Iran denies its enrichment of uranium is in pursuit of a warhead.

"We’ve laid out for the leadership of Iran what we’re willing to accept to get back into the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]," Mr Biden said. "We’re waiting for their response. When that will occur, when that will happen, I’m not sure But we are not going to wait forever."

US officials have warned that if Iran fails to agree to a deal then more sanctions and other curbs would be announced.

Mr Lapid, whose country has long said it retains the right to decide how it chooses to respond to the Iranian threat, said "the only thing that can stop Iran is knowing the free world will use force to stop them."

In an interview with Israel's Channel 12, broadcast on Wednesday evening, the US leader said he was prepared to use force as a “last resort” against Iran.

The US also promised to work with other partners in the region “to confront Iran’s aggression and destabilising activities”.

On Friday, Mr Biden heads to Saudi Arabia, which has its own concerns about Iran's regional activity, and he will also meet with leaders of GCC states as well as Iraq, Jordan and Egypt to discuss matters of regional security and energy. Mr Lapid described the US president's next leg of his regional tour as "extremely important to Israel."

Mr Biden said that the visit to Saudi Arabia was an opportunity for the US to reassert its influence in the region. "We made a mistake of walking away from our influence in the Middle East," he said.

Mr Biden is on his first trip to the Middle East since taking office in January 2020. He is expected to travel to the occupied West Bank on Friday to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas before going to Saudi Arabia.

The president once again stated his belief that a two-state solution was the only way to ensure “a reality in which Israelis and Palestinians alike can enjoy equal measures of security, freedom and prosperity”. However, there is not expected to be any progress on the matter during the visit.

The president, who has come under scrutiny from the US media for travelling to Saudi Arabia after publically criticising the kingdom, said the trip was an opportunity to reassert the US in the region and counter the influence of China and Russia.

Updated: July 15, 2022, 8:18 AM
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