Biden says US will not wait ‘forever’ for Iran on nuclear deal

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Biden Says Us Will Not Wait ‘Forever’ For Iran On Nuclear Deal Biden Says Us Will Not Wait ‘Forever’ For Iran On Nuclear Deal
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid listens as President Joe Biden speaks during a virtual summit with the leaders of India and the United Arab Emirates, © AP/Press Association Images
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By Aamer Madhani, Josh Boak and Chris Megerian, Associated Press

The United States is “not going to wait forever” for Iran to rejoin a dormant nuclear deal, President Joe Biden said, a day after saying he would be willing to use force against Tehran as a last resort if necessary.

At a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid following private talks about Iran’s rapidly progressing nuclear programme, Mr Biden said the US had laid out for the Iranian leadership a path to return to the nuclear deal and was still waiting for a response.

“When that will come, I’m not certain,” the US president said.

“But we’re not going to wait forever.”

US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid address the media following their meeting in Jerusalem (Evan Vucci/AP)

Even as he suggested that his patience with Iran was running low, Mr Biden held out hope that Iran can be persuaded to rejoin the agreement.

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“I continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this outcome,” he said.

Mr Biden’s desire for a diplomatic solution contrasted with Mr Lapid, who said Iran must face a real threat of force in order to give up on its nuclear ambition.

“The Iranian regime must know that if they continue to deceive the world they will pay a heavy price,” Mr Lapid said at the news conference.

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

Mr Lapid suggested that he and Mr Biden were in agreement, despite his tougher rhetoric towards Iran.

“I don’t think there’s a light between us,” he said.

“We cannot allow Iran to become nuclear.”

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid listens as President Joe Biden speaks during a virtual summit with the leaders of India and the United Arab Emirates (Evan Vucci/AP)

Resurrecting the Iran nuclear deal brokered by Barack Obama’s administration and abandoned by Donald Trump in 2018 was a key priority for Mr Biden as he entered office.

But administration officials have become increasingly pessimistic about the chances of getting Tehran back into compliance.

Israeli officials have sought to use Mr Biden’s first visit to the Middle East as president to underscore that Iran’s nuclear programme has progressed too far and encourage the Biden administration to scuttle efforts to revive a 2015 agreement with Iran to limit its development.

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Israel opposed the original nuclear deal, reached under Mr Obama in 2015, because its limitations on Iran’s nuclear enrichment would expire and the agreement did not address Iran’s ballistic missile programme or military activities in the region.

Instead of the US re-entering the deal, which Mr Trump withdrew from in 2018, Israel would prefer strict sanctions in the hopes of leading to a more sweeping accord.

The US president, who is set to travel to Saudi Arabia on Friday, said he also stressed to Mr Lapid the importance of Israel becoming “totally integrated” in the region.

Their one-on-one talks marked the centrepiece of a 48-hour visit by Mr Biden aimed at strengthening already tight relations between the US and Israel.

The leaders issued a joint declaration emphasising military co-operation and a commitment to preventing Iran, which Israel considers an enemy, from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

An activist with the Israeli movement Women Wage Peace holds a banner in front of Jerusalem’s walled Old City calling on Joe Biden to put peace between Israel and the Palestinians on the agenda (Ariel Schalit/AP)

In the joint statement, the United States said it is ready to use “all elements of its national power” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

Mr Biden, in an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 that aired on Wednesday, offered strong assurances of his determination to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power, saying he would be willing to use force as a “last resort” if necessary.

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Iran announced last week that it has enriched uranium to 60% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade quality.

The joint declaration could hold important symbolic importance for Mr Biden’s upcoming meeting with Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia as he seeks to strengthen a regionwide alliance against Iran.

“I talked about how important it was … for Israel to be totally integrated in the region,” Mr Biden said after his one-on-one meeting with Mr Lapid on Thursday.

The president heads to Saudi Arabia after calling the kingdom a “pariah” nation as a candidate and releasing a US intelligence finding last year that showed the kingdom’s de facto leader, Mohammed bin Salman, was likely to have approved the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based writer.

President Joe Biden participates in a virtual summit with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and the leaders of India and the United Arab Emirates (Evan Vucci/AP)

Mr Biden declined to commit to mentioning Mr Khashoggi’s murder when he meets with the crown prince.

“I always bring up human rights,” the US president said at the news conference.

“But my position on Khashoggi has been so clear. If anyone doesn’t understand it, in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, then they haven’t been around for a while.”

He did not reiterate his position.

Thursday’s appearances with the Israeli prime minister could also provide a boost to Mr Lapid, who is serving in an interim capacity until elections in November, Israel’s fifth in less than four years.

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Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid (Maya Alleruzzo, Pool/AP)

Mr Lapid’s main opponent is former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the joint appearance with Mr Biden could help burnish his credentials as a statesman and leader.

Mr Biden and Mr Lapid also participated in a virtual summit with India and the United Arab Emirates, a collection of countries called the I2U2.

The United Arab Emirates announced it will help finance a two billion dollar (£1.7 billion) project supporting agriculture in India.

Mr Biden did not mention Israel’s upcoming election during the public portion of Thursday’s meeting with Mr Lapid, but told reporters “we had a good beginning of a long, God willing, relationship”.

Mr Biden is expected to meet only briefly with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom who he has had a rocky relationship.

Much like Mr Lapid, Mr Biden also faces a political threat from his predecessor.

Joe Biden speaks as Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, left, and Israeli PM Yair Lapid listen during a welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Mr Trump, an ally of Mr Netanyahu who still enjoys strong support from Republican voters despite his attempt to overturn the last election, may run for another term.

Asked in the Channel 12 interview if he expected a rematch, Mr Biden replied: “I’m not predicting, but I would not be disappointed.”

Given the US’s status as Israel’s closest and most important ally, Mr Biden is at the centre of the country’s attention during his visit.

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He received Israel’s top civilian honour, the presidential medal of honour, from President Isaac Herzog later on Thursday.

He also met US athletes participating in the Maccabiah Games.

Also known as the “Jewish Olympics”, it is the country’s largest sporting event and held every four years for Israeli and Jewish athletes from all over world.

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