Netanyahu, Biden Meet to Talk Iran and Saudi Normalization; PM Gets White House Invitation

JERUSALEM, Israel – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Joe Biden finally met at a Manhattan hotel Wednesday, nearly 9 months after the prime minister took office. The meeting took place as world leaders assembled for the gathering of the United Nations General Assembly.

In New York, Biden also invited Netanyahu to the White House sometime before the end of the year. Many in Israel had considered it a snub that the administration invited President Isaac Herzog to the White House this summer, but had refused to extend an offer for Netanyahu to visit Washington.

The meeting appeared to lessen the tensions that had arisen between the two leaders since the beginning of the year. The White House has relentlessly attacked the Netanyahu government’s judicial reform plans.

The prime minister thanked President Biden for his “continued commitment to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability,” and added, “that shared goal of ours can be achieved by a credible military threat, crippling sanctions and supporting the brave men and women of Iran who despise that regime and who are our real partners for a better future.”

The two also spoke about the possibilities of a trilateral agreement between the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia, which could lead to normalization of relations between the Jerusalem and the Desert Kingdom.

In written remarks before their face-to-face meeting, Netanyahu said the sides could “forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” and added, “I think such a peace would go a long way first to advance the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, achieve reconciliation between the Islamic world and the Jewish state, and advance a genuine peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Biden jokingly attributed his hopeful perspective on a possible agreement to his Irish optimism. “If you and I ten years ago were talking about normalization with Saudi Arabia, we would look at each other (and ask) who has been drinking what,” he told Netanyahu. The prime minister responded, “Good Irish whisky.”

The levity masked some significant roadblocks to normalization, including the Saudis’ insistence – backed by Washington – that a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians be part of the agreement. 

Meanwhile, Israel has concerns that safeguards be put in place to ensure that the civilian Saudi nuclear program not be weaponized.

During a rare U.S. television interview on Fox News Wednesday, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said, “Every day we get closer, it seems it’s for the first time real one serious. We get to see how it goes.” He stressed the significance of the discussions, calling possible normalization “the biggest historical deal since the end of the Cold War.”

Bin Salman also cautioned that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, Saudi Arabia would  “have to get one, for security reasons, for balancing power.”

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