President Biden told Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the White House Friday that he was committed to pursuing a diplomatic understanding with Iran over its nuclear program — before teasing the use of “other options” if that did not work.
In their first face-to-face meeting since Bennett became Israel’s leader in June, the president insisted that the US was committed to “ensure Iran never develops a nuclear weapon.”
“We’re putting diplomacy first and seeing where that takes us,” Biden added. “But if diplomacy fails, we’re ready to turn to other options.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to answer later Friday on what the president meant by “other options.”
“Any President has a range of options at their disposal. I’m not going to outline those from here,” she told reporters. “But our first preference and our priority and our focus is on the diplomatic path and pursuing the diplomatic path forward.”
Asked when Biden might feel he had exhausted all diplomatic efforts and turn to “other options,” Psaki said she was “not going to give an end date on that given it is, by far and away, our best option and the preferable option.”
Since then-President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018, Iran has abandoned every limitation the accord imposed on its nuclear enrichment. Tehran now enriches a small amount of uranium up to 63 percent — a short step from weapons-grade levels — compared with 3.67 percent under the deal. It also spins far more advanced centrifuges and more of them than were allowed under the accord, worrying nuclear nonproliferation experts even though Iran insists its program is peaceful.
Psaki cast blame on Trump for the situation, telling reporters that “we’re in this situation because the prior administration pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and prevented us from having the visibility we need into Iran’s capabilities.”
Bennett, who like his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu has sought to dissuade the US from reentering the agreement, told Biden Friday that he was “happy to hear your clear words that Iran will never be able to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
The prime minister also labeled Iran “the world’s number-one exporter of terror, instability, and human rights violations” and argued that “these very days illustrate what the world would look like if a radical Islamic regime acquired a nuclear weapon.”
“That marriage would be a nuclear nightmare for the entire world,” Bennett added.
Indirect talks between the US and Iran in the hope of salvaging the deal have stalled and Washington continues to maintain crippling sanctions on the country as regional hostilities simmer.
Before arriving in US capital, Bennett told his Cabinet that he would tell Biden not to reenter “a nuclear deal that has already expired and is not relevant, even to those who thought it was once relevant.”
Administration officials have acknowledged that Iran’s potential “breakout” — the time needed to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon — is now down to a matter of months or less.
With Post wires
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