Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday leading up to a meeting with President Joe Biden on Thursday.
On his first foreign trip as prime minister, Mr Bennett is looking to reset Israel’s ties with the US, after an era dominated by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former president Donald Trump, though the new Israeli government has carried over some policies of its predecessor.
Mr Bennett said to Mr Blinken on Wednesday that he wanted to discuss with the US president “how do we fend off and curtail Iran's … race to a nuclear weapon".
At the Pentagon, Mr Austin and Mr Bennett discussed Iran, Covid-19 and relations with the Palestinians.
“The administration remains committed to Israel's security and right to self-defence,” Mr Austin said. “That is unwavering, it is steadfast and it is ironclad.”
The US defence secretary also touched upon the attack on the Mercer Street vessel during the meeting.
On Thursday, Mr Biden plans to emphasise his strong support for Israel, US officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The meeting may reveal divergent approaches on Iran: the US favours a diplomatic pact to halt Tehran’s nuclear programme and Israel has said it may use secret attacks to disable Iranian facilities.
Mr Biden will restate his commitment to the region and argue that his withdrawal from Afghanistan frees up resources to support other efforts, including support of Israel, the officials said.
“We expect their conversation to be wide-ranging,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, highlighting subjects such as security within Israel, Iran and the pandemic.
With Iran’s nuclear programme accelerating weekly, US officials said the administration is committed to finding a diplomatic resolution after inheriting Mr Trump’s so-called maximum pressure campaign. The Biden administration’s view is that Mr Trump’s approach undercut efforts to slow nuclear development, the officials said.
Mr Bennett is expected to adopt a more conciliatory tone than his predecessor, while pressing the same foreign policy line of firm opposition to Tehran.
“We will deal with many fronts, especially the Iranian front, and especially the jump in the Iranian nuclear programme over the past two or three years. In particular, we will discuss the plan to block this programme,” Mr Bennett said, before his departure to the US.
The leaders will also discuss the Covid-19 pandemic, the officials said, as well as climate change and economic matters.
US health officials have relied heavily on Israeli data in developing a plan for booster shots, though some experts say the data are not clear on whether they are needed for all age groups.