Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu challenged U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on the Biden administration’s push to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal during talks Tuesday.
Netanyahu ripped into the deal, officially titled the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), during a duel press conference in Jerusalem. Netanyahu said the Iran deal, which the United States left in 2018, would allow Iran to create an arsenal of nuclear weapons.
“We discussed many regional issues, but none is greater than Iran. And I can tell you that I hope that the United States will not go back to the old JCPOA because we believe that that deal paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons with international legitimacy,” Netanyahu said, according to a transcript of his remarks. “We also reiterated that whatever happens, Israel will always reserve the right to defend itself against a regime committed to our destruction, committed to getting the weapons of mass destruction for that end.”
Blinken did not respond directly to Netanyahu’s comments on the JCPOA, but the secretary of state reaffirmed U.S. support for Israel’s security and right to defend itself. Blinken also said that strengthening Israeli-Palestinian relations is a top priority for the U.S.
“We know that to prevent a return to violence, we have to use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges, and that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild,” Blinken said. “The United States will work to rally international support around that effort while also making our own significant contributions, including some that I’ll announce later today. We’ll work with our partners, closely with all to ensure that Hamas does not benefit from the reconstruction assistance.”
“At the same time, we need to work to expand opportunity for Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank, including by strengthening the private sector, expanding trade and investment, and other means,” he added. “Assistance and investment like these will help foster a more stable environment that benefits Palestinians and also benefits Israelis.”
Over the weekend, Blinken acknowledged that Iran sponsors terrorism in the Middle East and around the world but said that the Biden administration may lift sanctions on the regime anyway in order to rejoin the JCPOA.
“Iran is engaged in a number of activities, including funding extremist groups, supporting terrorism more broadly, supporting very dangerous proxies that are taking destabilizing actions throughout the Middle East, proliferating weapons, and two things on that. One, an Iran with a nuclear weapon or with the capability to build one in very short order is going to act with even greater impunity in those areas, which just adds to the urgency of trying to put the nuclear problem back in the box that the nuclear agreement put it in,” Blinken said in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
“And, of course, many of these actions are going forward now while the — you know, and have gone forward over the last few years under the so-called maximum pressure being exerted by the — by the previous administration and clearly did not get the result that we all seek, which is to curb all of these activities,” he continued. “But the first thing that we need to do is put the nuclear problem back in the box. That’s why we’re committed to trying to see if Iran will come back into compliance with the nuclear agreement, the so-called JCPOA. That’s what we’re engaged in now. And then use that as a platform to build on and to try to deal with these other issues.”