As Biden visits, Israel affirms opposition to reviving Iran nuclear deal
By Isabel Kershner, Peter Baker, David E. Sanger and Patrick Kingsley
Prime Minister Yair Lapid reiterated Israel’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear accord Thursday, urging President Joe Biden to increase pressure on Iran to discuss an alternative agreement, according to a statement from the Israeli government.
Biden and Lapid, who is serving as an interim prime minister until elections in November, discussed the matter during a meeting as part of the president’s four-day visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“Words will not stop them, Mr. President,” Lapid said of the Iranian leadership at a news conference afterward. “Diplomacy will not stop them. The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that if they continue to develop their nuclear program, the free world will use force.”
Lapid added: “The Iranian regime must know that if they continue to deceive the world, they will pay a heavy price.”
He also suggested that Israel was ready to normalize diplomatic relations with more Arab nations.
“Mr. President, you will meet with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Iraq,” he said. “I would like you to pass them all a message from us: 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.”
Biden had earlier sought to calm Israeli fears of a potential new Iran nuclear deal, promising not to give in to a key demand by Tehran and assuring Israelis that he would use force if needed to stop Iran from developing a bomb.
In an interview taped at the White House on Tuesday and aired on Israeli television Wednesday night shortly after his arrival, Biden again rejected Iran’s demand that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard be taken off Washington’s list of foreign terrorist organizations as part of any agreement. Asked whether he would hold to that position even if it meant no deal, Biden said, “Yes.”
Lapid welcomed that stance Thursday, according to the government statement.
“The prime minister thanked the president for his decision not to remove the Revolutionary Guard from the list of terrorist organizations,” it said.
Israel vociferously objected to the 2015 nuclear agreement. And after President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the accord three years later touched off a new surge in the Iranian nuclear program, Israel stepped up its sabotage campaign, blowing up Iranian facilities.
Talks to renew the agreement have been stalled for months.
Biden has argued that Israel was made more vulnerable when Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement, which was reached under the Obama administration. It would be safer, Biden said, with a renewed accord.
“The only thing worse than the Iran that exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons, and if we can return to the deal, we can hold them tight,” he told Yonit Levi of Channel 12 in the televised interview. “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.”
One of the aims of Biden’s trip is to ensure that the United States is on the same page with Israel, Saudi Arabia and other enemies of Iran if the nuclear talks fail. But Biden held out hope that they may yet succeed.
“I still think it makes sense,” he said. “We’ve laid it out on the table, we’ve made the deal, we’ve offered it, and it’s up to Iran now.”
And asked whether he would use force against Iran if necessary to stop it from obtaining a nuclear weapon, he answered, “If that was the last resort, yes.”