After nearly an entire month in office, Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a long-awaited first phone call on Wednesday after a delay that had the White House on the defense that it was snubbing Israel’s leader.
There had been speculation that Biden was signaling his displeasure over the Netanyahu’s close ties with former President Donald Trump, who called the right-wing leader two days after his inauguration in 2017.
Biden has spoken with about a dozen other world leaders since taking office on Jan. 20. The White House had said that Netanyahu would be the first Middle East leader he would call.
Biden and Netanyahu spoke for about an hour on issues including Iran and Israel’s budding relations with Arab and Muslim countries in the region, Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
“President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed the continuation of peace agreements, the Iranian threat and challenges in the region, and agreed to continue talks between them,” the statement said.
“The two leaders noted their longstanding personal ties and said they would work together to further strengthen the strong relations between Israel and the United States,” the statement added.
They also spoke about ways to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the statement said.
The White House had denied that the delay in a Biden courtesy call was meant to disrespect Netanyahu, with spokeswoman Jen Psaki saying last week that it was “not an intentional dis.” However, when a reporter pressed on whether the Biden administration still considers Israel an “important” ally, Psaki dodged the question.
Netanyahu this week acknowledged differences with Biden over Iranian and Palestinian issues, but said the two enjoy a strong working relationship.
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The Israeli leader may find the two countries’ alliance tested if Washington restores U.S. participation in the Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew in 2018, and opposes Israeli “settlement building on occupied land” where Palestinians seek statehood.
“Whoever supports our policies, I’m with him. And whoever endangers us, for example [on policies] regarding a nuclear Iran, which is an existential threat to us, so I oppose that,” Netanyahu said this week.
An Israeli diplomat told Reuters that Israel had been concerned about the delay in Biden calling Netanyahu, but was mindful that the U.S. president was dealing with other issues first, such as the coronavirus pandemic and challenges from Russia and China.
The fact that Netanyahu was the first Middle East leader called was taken as a positive sign, the diplomat said.
It is important to note the call came on the same day Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded “action, not words” from the United States if it wants to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, challenging new President Joe Biden to take the first step toward a thaw.
Iran has set a deadline of next week for Biden to begin reversing sanctions imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump, or it will take its biggest step yet to breach the deal – banning short-notice inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
“We have heard many nice words and promises which in practice have been broken and opposite actions have been taken,” Khamenei said in a televised speech. “Words and promises are no good. This time (we want) only action from the other side, and we will also act.”
It remains to be seen how Biden manages the balance between supporting Israel and his desire to resurrect the Iran Nuclear Deal. It may sour what Netanyahu described as a “very friendly and warm” conversation.
Reuters contributed to this report.
ARTICLE SOURCE : thefederalistpapers.org