After being forced to postpone their first face-to-face meeting due to Afghanistan bombings, U.S. President Joe Biden hosted Naftali Bennett at the White House on Friday, telling the prime minister if diplomacy in dealing with Iran doesn't work, then "we've got other options".
Thursday's Islamic State attack outside the Kabul airport, which killed 13 U.S. soldiers and 72 Afghans during a chaotic U.S. evacuation mission from the country, occurred just hours before the Biden-Bennett meeting, initially causing a delay.
But as the U.S. death toll mounted, U.S. and Israeli officials said the meeting had been called off and rescheduled for 10:25 am eastern time (5:25 pm Israel time) on Friday. The meeting, held behind closed doors, eventually began with a 40-minute delay and lasted for over 50 minutes instead of the planned 25.
Following the meeting, the two made a short, joint statement to the press. Biden began his remarks by saying the leaders became "close friends" since Bennett's arrival in Washington.
"He heads and leads the most diverse government in Israeli history,” Biden said, while addressing the prime minister.
With Iran's nuclear ambitions being the main agenda of the meeting, the president told reporters the Islamic Republic will "never" have an atomic bomb.
"But we’re putting diplomacy first and we’ll see where that takes us. If diplomacy fails, we've got other options," he said.
The U.S. has been trying to re-enter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal since Biden took office, a move that has faced criticism from Israeli officials. Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.
Biden then thanked Israel for its "unshakable support" and reiterated that America's commitment to Israel's security is unbreakable.
Bennett for his part expressed his deepest condolences over the attacks in Kabul and said Israel shared with the U.S. in its sorrow.
Alluding to Afghanistan, the prime minister added that Israel will "never outsource its security" to the U.S. but thanked the Biden administration for providing military support to the Jewish state, primarily the replenishment of Iron Dome batteries.
Bennett also said that Israel has never had a "better and more reliable" partner than the United States. “You’ve always stood up for us, especially in tough times,” he said.
The two sides played down the Palestinian issue in an apparent attempt to avoid any public friction at this early stage of their relationship. Given the poor prospects for progress in diplomatic talks with the Palestinians, both men appeared to be more interested in shoring up the new Israeli government in their first in-person talks.
First published: 17:19, 08.27.21