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Biden, Israeli PM Lapid sign joint declaration to improve security, prevent nuclear Iran

Biden on Thursday also defended his decision to visit Saudi Arabia.

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Al Salman Royal Palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday. Photo courtesy of Saudi press Agency | License Photo

July 14 (UPI) -- On the second day of his visit to Israel, U.S. President Joe Biden met Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and the leaders signed a declaration to improve security and defenses and to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

The meeting was part of a two-day stop in Israel for Biden, who traveled to the country for the first time as president on Wednesday. During the four-day Middle East tour, Biden will also visit with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and the king and crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

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At Thursday's meeting, Biden and Lapid issued a joint declaration that underscored military cooperation and vowed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

"We discussed the Iranian threat," Lapid said, according to The Jerusalem Post. "There will be no nuclear Iran.

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"This is not only a threat to Israel but to the world, and we discussed some other issues we are going to keep to ourselves."

Biden has previously said the United States would use military force, as a last resort, to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

"I continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this outcome," Biden said at a joint news conference after the leaders signed the declaration. "And we will continue to work with Israel to counter other threats from Iran throughout the region.

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"We must never forget the horrors to which unchecked hatred can lead."

Biden also reminded Lapid and the Israeli people that they have an "ironclad commitment from the United States of America to Israel's security."

"An ironclad commitment," he repeated.

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The joint declaration was signed at a time of uncertainty with regard to Iran's nuclear designs. The 2015 Iran nuclear deal -- which traded sanctions relief for Tehran's promise that it would never make a nuclear weapon -- still exists, but Biden's administration has not yet rejoined after former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the pact in 2018.

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Since the U.S. withdrawal, Iran has made several violations of the agreement and the other parties to the deal -- Britain, France, Germany, the European Union, China and Russia -- have worked to try and salvage the pact.

Biden also met with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who warned that the United States must provide more than just economic sanctions or a defensive military partnership between Middle Eastern states to pressure Iran.

"We need one thing," Netanyahu said. "A credible offensive military option is needed."

Netanyahu could return as prime minister depending on elections this fall after the diverse coalition that brought the moderate Lapid into power fell apart, prompting the Knesset to dissolve.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden's position on the key matters involving Iran and Israeli security will not be affected by whoever is elected to lead Israel.

"One of the key messages that we're sending on this trip, at this time, is that the relationship between the United States and Israelis is not about who sits in what chair in Israel or in the United States," Sullivan said, according to NBC News.

"It is about a relationship between two countries and two peoples. So, despite the fact that Israel is entering election season, the president can have an equally robust engagement with the Israeli government and the Israeli public as he could if we were not in election season."

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In his remarks Thursday, Biden also pledged total support for Ukraine in the war against Russia and condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Also Thursday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog presented Biden with the Presidential Medal of Honor, Israel's highest civilian honor, saying the two countries can work together to build "a regional ecosystem of sustainable peace" in the Middle East.

"Under your leadership, we can continue transforming our region from a source of global tension to a source of global stability and progress," Herzog told Biden. "The Middle East can grow into a meeting point for climate innovation and combined medical research, clean energy and peaceful exchange among faiths and peoples."

Thursday's meetings were part of a daylong series of talks that also included a summit of leaders from India and the United Arab Emirates known as I2U2.

Biden later met with U.S. athletes and attend the opening ceremony of the Maccabi Games at Teddy Stadium.

On Friday, Biden is scheduled to speak at Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem before traveling to Bethlehem in the West Bank for a meeting with Abbas at the Muqataa Presidential Compound.

Biden has promoted a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but most Palestinian leaders have rejected the idea.

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After meeting with Abbas on Friday, Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia and participate in a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council with leaders from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt.

In Saudi Arabia, Biden will also meet personally with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his father, King Salman. Biden has been criticized for planning the Saudi trip due to the 2018 killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which U.S. intelligence believes was ordered by the crown prince. During his campaign for president, Biden called both the crown prince and King Salman "pariahs."

Biden on Thursday defended his decision to travel to Saudi Arabia and meet with the royal leaders.

"My views on Khashoggi have been absolutely, positively clear and I have never been quiet about talking about human rights," he said during the joint news conference. "The reason I'm going to Saudi Arabia is to promote U.S. interests in a way that I think we have an opportunity to reassert our influence in the Middle East.

"I want to make sure that we continue to lead in the region and not create a vacuum," he added. "A vacuum that's filled by Russia and China."

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