Iran ‘challenge’ headlines Israeli president’s White House visit

Iran ‘challenge’ headlines Israeli president’s White House visit

Israeli President Isaac Herzog warned President Biden of the growing challenge the U.S. and Israel face in containing an increasingly belligerent Iran as the two leaders met at the White House on Wednesday.

In his brief comments for the press ahead of the Oval Office meeting, Mr. Herzog noted Tehran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons, its support for Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and the regime’s crackdown on widespread internal protests over the death of a young Iranian woman who died while in the custody of the country’s morality police.

“I think the Iranian challenge will be a major challenge which we will be discussing,” Mr. Herzog told reporters as the two leaders prepared to meet.

Mr. Herzog’s comments come as the Biden administration’s push to revive the Obama-era nuclear agreement with Iran has unraveled in the wake of the regime’s brazen rejection of international norms.

Israel has repeatedly pressured Mr. Biden to abort talks with Iran to return to the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, warning that the pact will not stop Iran from obtaining its long-pursued nuclear weapons capability and further destabilize the region.

The Biden administration has only recently acknowledged that talks have all but stalled but continues to press for a diplomatic solution to curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

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National Security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday that returning to the JCPOA is not the administration’s focus.

“Our focus is on holding the Iranian regime accountable for how they’re treating their own people,” he said.

“We’re just too far apart,” he added. “Iran continues to make demands that have nothing to do with the nuclear deal. We just aren’t there.”

Mr. Kirby said Mr. Biden reiterated the U.S.’s commitment to “making sure Iran cannot achieve a nuclear weapon” during his meeting with Mr. Herzog.

“Obviously diplomacy is still the preferred path to do that,” he said. “We’re just not in a position where that’s a viable option right now.”

Mr. Biden made no mention of Iran during his remarks to the press ahead of the meeting, focusing primarily on the U.S.-mediated deal between Israel and Lebanon on the two countries’ maritime boundary.

The president took a brief victory lap for the agreement, which served as a breakthrough between Israel and Lebanon — two countries that have been on war footing since Israel’s formation in 1948.

“I think it’s a historic breakthrough,” Mr. Biden said.

Both leaders also underscored the close relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

“I want to thank the president for his warmth, for his friendship, for being such an ally of the state of Israel and the great friendship between Israel and the United States,” Mr. Herzog said.