Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Joe Biden pledges 'unvarnished' support for Israeli security

US Vice President Joe Biden pledged America's "total, unvarnished commitment to Israel's security" as he visited Jerusalem to meet prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

By Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

President Shimon Peres (R) with the visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the President's residence in Jerusalem: Joe Biden: Israel and Palestine peace talks at 'moment of opportunity'
President Shimon Peres (R) with the visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the President's residence in Jerusalem Photo: EPA

There had been speculation Mr Biden would deliver a warning against Israel launching a unilateral military strike against Iran but instead he present a united front against Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

"There is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel's security," said Mr Biden. "For that reason, and many others, addressing Iran's nuclear programme has been one of our administration's priorities.

"We're determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and we're working with many countries around the world to convince Tehran to meet its international obligations and cease and desist."

In contrast to recent State Department criticism of Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza, the vice president went out of his way to praise Mr Netanyahu's partial freeze on West Bank settlement construction. He hailed his willingness to make "historically bold commitments" to reach peace with the Palestinians.

Mr Biden also welcomed the decision by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to resume indirect peace talks after more than a year of paralysis, leading to direct talks and "a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security". Mr Biden is due to meet Palestinian leaders in Ramallah on Wednesday.

"The best long-term guarantee for Israel's security is a comprehensive Middle East peace with the Palestinians, with the Syrians, with Lebanon and leading eventually to full and normalised relationships with the entire Arab world," he said.

Mr Netanyahu reaffirmed his commitment to peace with the Palestinians and called for "tough sanctions" against Iran.

"The stronger those sanctions are, the more likely it will be that the Iranian regime will have to choose between advancing its nuclear program and advancing the future of its own permanence," he said.

Mr Biden's short speech at Mr Netanyahu's official residence was long on expressions and body language aimed at pacifying Israelis feeling cold-shouldered by President Obama's failure to visit their country since he was elected. The two leaders referred to their long personal friendship and addressed each other as "my friend Joe" and "Bibi".

"It's been too long between visits here," said Mr Biden. "It is true that you and I have been friends a long, long time It's just quite frankly good to be back in your company and see you." The two men did not take questions in the carefully-choreographed appearance. The only glitch came when Mr Netanyahu came to present Mr Biden with a certificate to mark the planting of a grove of trees in Jerusalem in memory of the vice president's mother, only to discover the glass in the frame had shattered. The two leaders will be hoping that their alliance is less fragile.

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