After calling more than a dozen other world leaders since taking office, President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel finally spoke in an hour-long phone conversation on Wednesday, a call that happened a month into his presidency that is seen as a forecast of a new foreign policy shift towards U.S. strongest ally as his administration is working behind the scenes to bring back the Iran nuclear deal.
Biden’s quick efforts to get in touch with leaders of other allies as well as adversaries like China President Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin widely concerned Israeli officials who interpreted it as a sign of disrespect to Netanyahu. The Israeli PM was one of former President Donald Trump’s closest international allies. The former president during his tenure moved the U.S, Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
Shortly after being announced the winner of the 2020 election, Netanyahu recognized Biden’s victory as president-elect in a “warm conversation.” According to a statement from Netanyahu‘s media adviser, Biden “reiterated his deep commitment to the State of Israel and its security,” and Netanyahu described the “special bond” between the U.S. and Israel as a “fundamental component of Israel’s security and its policy.”
In a readout of the call, the White House vaguely stated that Biden “affirmed his personal history of steadfast commitment to Israel’s security and conveyed his intent to strengthen all aspects of the U.S.-Israel partnership, including our strong defense cooperation.” However, it gave no details of what was discussed between both leaders on the issue of Iran.
“Together, the leaders discussed the importance of continued close consultation on regional security issues, including Iran,” the readout simply said that Iran was not necessarily discussed despite reports that potential talks between the White House and Iran.
Biden had been holding off calling Netanyahu, in part, because he first wanted to speak with key European allies as he weighs his next steps with Iran, according to a senior administration official who spoke to AP on the condition of anonymity.
The conversation with the two leaders took place before Biden’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is scheduled to speak with European nations that initially participated in the Iran negotiations in 2015. The nuclear deal lifted many U.S. and international economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for severe curbs on the country’s nuclear program. The agreement came in part due to a series of secret meetings that personally authorized by former President Obama between top U.S. State Department, White House, and Iranian government officials. A handful of U.S. officials, including Biden’s now National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan used military planes, service elevators, and other tricks to hide their rendezvous with Iranian representatives during their meet-ups in place like a Gulf Arab country like Oman.
Getting the U.S. back into the Iran nuclear deal is the main foreign policy objective the Biden administration is focused on pursuing in the Middle East, despite fears from the Middle East that Biden is reviving the approach he once took serving as Vice President under Obama. Some of the Iran nuclear deal’s fiercest opponents, including representatives in some Arab counties as well as Israel, have urged Biden prior to being sworn-in have raised the idea of involving them in having a seat at the negotiating table in future talks with Tehran.
Those same countries in which the Trump Administration helped negotiated steps to normalize relations with Arab countries with Isreal would prefer that Biden forget the original deal and start afresh in the hopes of inking a tougher agreement that could even cover Iran’s non-nuclear programs, such as its ballistic missiles and use of proxy militias.
Last year, the Trump administration brokered peace deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco — all within less than 6 months. Biden expressed his support for that push during his call with Netanyahu, the White House reiterated in the readout.
“The President emphasized U.S. support for the recent normalization of relations between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim world. He underscored the importance of working to advance peace throughout the region, including between Israelis and Palestinians,” the White House readout said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that he had spoken to Biden for about an hour Wednesday, describing hourlong phone conversation “very warm and friendly.”
“The two leaders noted their longstanding personal connection and said that they would work together to continue strengthening the steadfast alliance between Israel and the US,” Netanyahu tweeted the statement in a series of tweets from the official Twitter account of the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel.
“US President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed the future advancement of the peace accords, the Iranian threat, and regional challenges, and agreed to continue their dialogue,” Netanyahu shared in a follow-up tweet.
Biden told reporters that the call with Netanyahu was a “good conversation” but he didn’t elaborate further.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week that the lack of a presidential call was “not an intentional diss,” to Netanyahu, although Israelis have deemed it as a sign of disrespect and have publicly complained that the U.S. President hasn’t reached out. When asked by a reporter whether the Biden administration considers Saudi Arabia and Israel to be “important allies,” Psaki gave a vague, rambling answer that made no sense.
“Well, you know, again, I think we — there are ongoing processes and internal interagency processes — one that we, I think, confirmed an interagency meeting just last week — to discuss a range of issues in the Middle East,” Psaki said.
“We have only been here three and a half weeks, and I think I’m going to let those policy processes see themselves through before we give, kind of, a complete laydown of what our national security approaches will be to a range of issues,” she added.
However on Tuesday, Psaki pledged that Netanyahu would be the first leader from the Middle East region to get a call from the president and that Biden intends to hold the conversation “soon.”
“Let me first confirm for you that his first call with a leader in the region will be with Prime Minister Netanyahu. It will be soon. I don’t have an exact day for you, but it is soon. Stay tuned,” Psaki during her White House daily press briefing. “Israel is, of course, an ally. Israel is a country where we have an important, strategic security relationship, and our team is fully engaged, not at the head of state level quite yet, but very soon. But our team is fully engaged, having constant conversations at many levels with the Israelis.”