Biden, Lapid sign pledge to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons

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U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid sign the “Jerusalem U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration,” which states that America will “use all elements of its national power" to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Credit: Maayan Hoffman.
The “Jerusalem U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration” states that America will “use all elements of its national power to ensure that outcome.”

 U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid signed an agreement on Thursday to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and reaffirm the U.S. commitment to expanding and supporting peace among Israel and its moderate Arab neighbors.

The “Jerusalem U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration” states that America pledges “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 agreement also affirms the United States’ commitment to “work together with other partners to confront Iran’s aggression and destabilizing activities, whether advanced directly or through proxies and terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

The two leaders signed the agreement during a press briefing at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Jerusalem on the second day of Biden’s visit to the Middle East.

“This past year, with Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine, with the Iranian nuclear threat becoming more dangerous and with the threats of terrorism worldwide—we were all reminded of something: in order to protect freedom, sometimes force must be used,” said Lapid after signing the agreement. “Nobody wants that, but neither can we shy away from it.

“On the side of terror stand people who will not hesitate to exploit any weakness, people who do not play by the rules.”

Biden had told Israel’s Channel 12 in an interview that aired on Wednesday night that the only thing worse than the Iran that exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons.

Yet, he reaffirmed his commitment to rejoining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Iranian deal in order to prevent that outcome.

“If we can return to the deal, we can hold them tight,” he said. “I think it was a gigantic mistake for the last president to get out of the deal. They’re closer to a nuclear weapon now than they were before,” he said.

However, he continued, the ball was now in Iran’s court.

“We’ve laid it out on the table, we’ve made the deal, we’ve offered it, and it’s up to Iran now,” he said.

In answer to a question about whether the use of force to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon was on the table, Biden said yes, but only “if that was the last resort.”

On Thursday, Lapid responded to the president in his remarks: “Words will not stop them, Mr. President. Diplomacy will not stop them,” he warned. “The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that if they continue to develop their nuclear program the free world will use force.

“The only way to stop them is to put a credible military threat on the table,” he said.

The agreement signed on Thursday reiterates the “unshakeable U.S. commitment to Israel’s security, and especially to the maintenance of its qualitative military edge.”

It states that these commitments are “bipartisan and sacrosanct, and that they are not only moral commitments, but also strategic commitments that are vitally important to the national security of the United States itself”—stating that it guarantees the terms of the current historic $38 billion security Memorandum of Understanding. It also commits additional funds for supplemental missile defense funding.

Palestinian issue downplayed 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is mentioned in only a single paragraph of the agreement, as a committment to “continuing to discuss the challenges and opportunities in Israeli-Palestinian relations.”

The agreement states that Biden “reaffirms his longstanding and consistent support of a two-state solution and for advancing toward a reality in which Israelis and Palestinians alike can enjoy equal measures of security, freedom and prosperity. The United States stands ready to work with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and regional stakeholders toward that goal.”

Lapid said in his speech that Israel “wants and believes” in peace with the Palestinian so long as the country’s security was protected.

“To any country, any nation that wants peace and normalization with us, we say: ‘ wasahalan, shalom, welcome,’” the prime minister said.

Abraham Accords magnified

Another aspect of the agreement is the goal of advancing peace between Israel and its moderate Arab neighbors, including Saudi Arabia.

The United States is “committed to continue playing an active role” in the Abraham Accords and ensuring regional security, “including in the context of President Biden’s upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia,” with the aim of expanding the “circle of peace” to include more Arab and Muslim states, the agreement states.

The president leaves for Saudi Arabia on Friday, where he is scheduled to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after taking a historical flight directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia.

The meeting is expected to result in an agreement to allow more Israeli planes to fly over Saudi Arabia.

It is also likely that an agreement to transfer two Red Sea islands from Egypt to Saudi Arabia, with the support of Israel, will be finalized during the visit. A U.S. plan to integrate regional air defenses to better protect Israel and its neighbors from Iranian missile attacks will also likely be discussed.

Biden has been criticized by some in the U.S. as legitimizing Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations. The president told reporters that he plans to bring up human rights, but that the purpose of the visit is to reassert American influence in the region.

“I want to make clear that we plan to continue to lead in the region and not create a vacuum that is filled by China or Russia,” Biden said.

He is also meeting with leaders from Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Iraq while in the country. Lapid asked Biden to deliver a message to them: “Our hand is outstretched for peace. We are ready to share our technology and experience, ready for our people to meet and learn about one another, ready for our scientists to collaborate and our businesses to cooperate.”

Earlier in the day, India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the United States participated in the first leaders’ meeting of the I2U2 Group, a forum to deal with food security and other global challenges like water, energy, transportation, space and health in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

The meeting was also meant to “reaffirm our support for the Abraham Accords and other peace and normalization arrangements with Israel,” according to a statement disseminated by the White House after the forum.

“We intend to mobilize private sector capital and expertise to modernize infrastructure, advance low carbon development pathways for our industries, improve public health and access to vaccines, advance physical connectivity between countries in the Middle East region, jointly create new solutions for waste treatment, explore joint financing opportunities, connect our startups to I2U2 investments, and promote the development of critical emerging and green technologies, all while ensuring near- and long-term food and energy security,” the statement continued.

Other aspects of the Jerusalem agreement singed on Thursday include singling out the tragedy in Ukraine and agreeing to support the invaded nation, collaborating on efforts to fight anti-Semitism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and sharing technology and innovation.

The two leaders also affirmed their commitment to continuing their shared and accelerated efforts to enable Israeli passport holders to be included in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program as soon as possible.

Biden told reporters that his team is “working very, very hard” to have the program up and running within the next several months.

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