US and Israeli leaders collectively pledge to disclaim Iran nuclear weapons

JERUSALEM, July 14 (Reuters) – US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday pledged to deny Iran nuclear weapons, a show of unity by allies long divided over diplomacy with Tehran.

The venture, which was part of a “Jerusalem Declaration” that capped Biden’s first visit to Israel as president, followed him telling a local TV station he was open to the “last resort” of violence against Iran — an obvious one Step to meet Israel’s demands of a “credible military threat” from world powers.

Washington and Israel have for years separately made veiled statements about a possible pre-emptive war with Iran, which denies pursuing nuclear weapons. However, whether they have the skills or the will to accomplish this has been debated.

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Thursday’s statement, released to media ahead of a formal signing ceremony, reiterated US support for Israel’s regional military prominence and its ability to “defend itself.”

“The United States emphasizes that an integral part of this pledge is a commitment never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon and that it stands ready to use all elements of its national power to ensure that outcome,” the statement added.

There was initially no comment from Tehran.

In 2015, it signed an international agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear projects with bomb-making potential. In 2018, then-US President Donald Trump denounced the pact, deeming it inadequate, a retreat welcomed by Israel.

Iran has since ramped up some nuclear activity, thwarting efforts by world powers to return to a deal at the Vienna talks. Israel now says it would support a new deal with stricter provisions. Iran has refused to submit to further restrictions.

“The only thing worse than Iran that’s in existence now is a nuclear-armed Iran, and if we can go back to the deal, we can keep it,” Biden told Israeli television on Wednesday.

US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid attend a bilateral meeting in Jerusalem on July 14, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

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EYES ON SAUDI ARABIA

Aside from bolstering allies’ sense of deterrence and mutual engagement, the statement’s power projection could also give Biden a boost as he travels on to Saudi Arabia on Friday. Riyadh has its own Iran concerns, and Biden hopes to feed that into a Saudi-Israeli rapprochement under US auspices.

Earlier Thursday, Biden told reporters that he and Lapid discussed “how important I think it is for Israel to be fully integrated into the region.” Lapid, in turn, considered Biden’s Saudi trip “extremely important for Israel.”

Some Israeli and Arab officials believe the nuclear deal’s sanctions relief would net Iran far more money to support proxy forces in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. They are also skeptical that the Biden administration will do much to counter Iran’s regional activities.

A US official asked if Thursday’s statement was about buying some time with Israel while Washington continues negotiations with Iran, said: “If Iran wants to sign the deal negotiated in Vienna, they have we’ve made it very clear that we’re ready to do that. And at the same time, if they’re not, we’ll keep increasing our sanctions pressure, we’ll keep increasing Iran’s diplomatic isolation.”

A senior Israeli official described the threat of military action as a way to avoid war.

“(It) is a guarantee that diplomatic, economic and legal efforts against Iran will be effective,” Defense Ministry Director-General Amir Eshel told Israel’s Kan radio. “Iran has shown everyone that when they’re put under hard pressure, they know how to stop and change their ways.”

The Jerusalem Declaration also committed the United States and Israel to work together on defense projects such as laser interceptor missiles, as well as on civilian technologies.

The United States is open to future defense grants to Israel, the statement said, reaffirming Washington’s interest in resuming talks on an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution.

(This story has been refiled to remove irrelevant words in paragraph 1.)

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writing by Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Arshad Mohammed; Edited by Howard Goller, Nick Macfie, William Maclean

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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