Biden says US won’t wait forever for Iran deal, doesn’t set deadline

Prime Minister Yair Lapid told Biden in their meeting that the nuclear talks to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action cannot continue to be open-ended and must have a deadline.

 US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid signing the Jerusalem Declaration (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid signing the Jerusalem Declaration
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

The US will not wait indefinitely for Iran to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, US President Joe Biden said in Jerusalem on Thursday, while declining to set a deadline for the end of negotiations.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid told Biden in their meeting that the nuclear talks to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action cannot continue to be open-ended and must have a deadline, a senior source said. Lapid also said the Western parties to the 2015 Iran Deal must call the UN Security Council and snap back sanctions on the Islamic Republic for its nuclear violations.

Asked about a deadline in the subsequent press conference, Biden said: “We’ve laid out for the leadership of Iran what we’re willing to accept to get into the JCPOA, and we’re waiting for a response. When it will come is uncertain but we’re not going to wait forever.”

Biden said the US is “committed to ensuring Iran never obtains nuclear weapons” and that doing so was “vital to the security of Israel and the US and the rest of the world as well.” 

“I continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this outcome, while continuing to work with Israel to counter other threats ….[such as] proxies like Hezbollah,” Biden said.

US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid meet on the second day of Biden's visit (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid meet on the second day of Biden's visit (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu also discussed Islamic Republic with Biden in a meeting later that day, calling the Iran deal "lousy." 

"We’ve been friends for 40 years, but to ensure the next 40 years, we must deal with the Iranian threat,"  Netanyahu said. "Sanctions and defensive military preparations are not enough. There must be a credible offensive military option...With no credible military option, Iran won’t be stopped. If Iran isn’t deterred, that military option has to be used." 

Lapid and Biden signed The Jerusalem US-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration after their meeting, a statement that includes an affirmation that the US is prepared to use military force against Iran, but Lapid appeared to call for a stronger statement.

“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,” Lapid said.

“It should not be a bluff, it should be the real thing,” Lapid stated. “The Iranian regime must know that if they continue to deceive the world, they will pay a heavy price.” 

The United States stresses in the Jerusalem Declaration “that integral to this pledge” - a commitment to Israel’s security and qualitative military edge - “is the 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 declaration also states that the US will work with “other partners” against Iranian aggression and destabilizing actions it takes directly or through proxies.

Biden remarked on “how important it was from my perspective for Israel to be totally integrated in the region,” and Lapid said that BIden’s trip to Saudi Arabia “is important for Israel and the region, for our security and the future prosperity of the Middle East.”

“Our hand is outstretched for peace,” Lapid stated in a message he said he wanted Biden to relay to Gulf States. “We are ready to share our technology and experience, ready for our people to meet and learn about one another, aready for our scientists to collaborate and our businesses to cooperate.” 

Biden said he will be “carrying a direct message of peace” and will “continue building on the Abraham Accords, which I strongly support because they deepen Israel’s integration in the broader region…Israel’s peace with its newborns [is an] essential goal.” 

Saudi-Israel normalization?

The US president plans to fly directly to Jeddah from Israel, and expected to announce an agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia by which Israeli commercial flights can enter Saudi airspace, in exchange for Israel agreeing to changes in security arrangements in the Straits of Tiran. The countries are also in talks for Saudi Arabia to allow a limited number of direct flights from Israel for Muslims taking part in the pilgrimage to Mecca, but it they may not be completed in time for Biden’s visit.

Biden and Lapid did not confirm the overflights agreement when asked about it in the press conference, but Lapid said Israel is “open to normalization,” and Biden said he is “optimistic.” 

The US president said that he will continue to speak about human rights violations by Saudi Arabia, including the murder of writer Jamal Khashoggi. 

“The reason I’m going to Saudi Arabia is to promote US interests,” Biden said. “I think we have an opportunity to reassert what I think we made a mistake of walking away from - our influence in the Middle East. I am meeting with nine heads of state…I want to make clear we can continue to lead the region and not create a vacuum filled by China and or Russia.”

In addition, the US supports a follow-on Memorandum of Understanding to follow the one signed in 2016 granting Israel $38 billion in defense aid to be spent in the US, as well as additional funding for missile defense, such as the $1 billion to replenish the Iron Dome missile defense system following the conflict with Hamas in Gaza last year. Biden said that he was proud to be part of the administrations that approved that funding.

“Nothing better reflects the steadfast and bipartisan support of the US to Israel’s security than the unprecedented [MOU] on security assistance signed by successive US administrations over the past few decades,” the declaration states.

Remarking on the strength of the US-Israel relationship, Biden quipped: “Like it or not, we’re with you. There’s no way out.” 

The countries also said they will promote cooperation in developing “cutting edge defense technologies” like laser weapons systems.

Biden mentioned in the press conference that he had reviewed the Iron Dome as well as the prototype of the Iron Beam laser-based missile defense system, and said they “can defend Israeli lives as well as lives of American servicemen.”

In the Jerusalem Declaration, Israel also thanked the US for supporting the Abraham Accords, which the country said are “important to the future of the Middle East region and to the cause of regions security, prosperity and peace.” 

The countries also expressed concern for the ongoing war on Ukraine, and their “commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and affirm the importance of continued humanitarian assistance to the people of Ukraine.”

Biden said that “Israel and the US stand together to defend fundamental values and to underwrite global prosperity and freedom.

“Putin’s assault on Ukraine is a challenge to peace and stability everywhere,” Biden stated. “The free world must sustain our resolve to help Ukraine. The US will continue to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people who have been devastated by Russian violence.” 

In addition, they said they will work together to combat boycott and delegitimization efforts against Israel, including at the UN or the International Criminal Court. 

“While fully respecting the right to freedom of expression, they firmly reject the BDS campaign,” the declaration reads. “The two countries will use the tools at their disposal to fight every scourge and source of antisemitism and to respond whenever legitimate criticism crosses over into bigotry and hatred or attempts to undermine Israel’s rightful and legitimate place among the family of nations.”

“The United States is proud to stand with the Jewish and democratic State of Israel, and with its people, whose uncommon courage, resilience, and spirit of innovation are an inspiration to so many worldwide,” the declaration states.

The declaration also mentions Israeli-Palestinian relations, condemning terrorism, and a shared commitment to initiatives improving Palestinians’ economy and quality of life. Biden reaffirmed his support for a two-state solution. Though he did not do so in the declaration, Lapid said in the press conference that he believes a two-state solution will preserve a democratic Israel with a Jewish majority.

Biden did not make any requests of Israel pertaining to the Palestinians during the meeting with Lapid, other than that there not be any surprises, the senior source said. During Biden’s visit to Israel as vice president in 2010, thousands of new homes in east Jerusalem were announced, causing a diplomatic crisis.

When asked whether his visit to a Palestinian hospital in Jerusalem without any Israelis accompanying him meant anything in terms of US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Biden said no.

In the president’s public remarks, he called for Israel not to take any steps that could obstruct an eventual two-state solution for “two peoples with deep, ancient roots in this land, living side by side in peace and security.” Such a solution will allow Israel to “remain a Jewish and democratic state,” he said.

In addition, the Jerusalem Declaration mentions the launch of the US-Israel Strategic High-Level Dialogue on Technology, which is a partnership on critical and emerging tech and areas of global concern such as pandemic preparedness, climate change and artificial intelligence. They agreed to cooperate on cyber exchange and combatting cybercrime.

The Jerusalem Declaration also includes a commitment to continue working towards allowing Israelis and Americans to travel between the countries without a visa. Responding to a question about the matter, Biden expressed hope that the process will be finished soon. Lapid asked the opposition - which blocked necessary legislation for Israel to join the Visa Waiver Program - to be more cooperative.

Lapid opened his remarks before the press referring to shared values between Israel and the US.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Iran nuclear threat reminds us that “in order to protect freedom, sometimes force must be used,” Lapid said.

The reason these countries attack democracies is fear, he added.

“What scares them the most is that their citizens, their people can see us. They can see our quality of life. The dynamism and creativity of our economy. The rights of women and the LGBTQ community. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech,” Lapid said. “Our way of life is what threatens them.” 

Biden repeated his well-trod story about former prime minister Golda Meir telling him, then a young senator visiting Israel in 1973, that “Israel has a secret weapon: We have nowhere else to go.”

“The scourge of antisemitism still marches around the world,” Biden said. “We must never forget the horrors to which unchecked hatred could lead, which is why I wanted to visit Yad Vashem…to renew our vow of never again.”