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US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid have vowed never to let Iran become a nuclear power - but can't agree how to do that.
Speaking at a joint news conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Biden said he still wants to give diplomacy a chance. Moments earlier, Lapid insisted that words alone won't thwart Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
While Biden suggested his patience with Iran was running low, he held out hope that Iran can be persuaded to rejoin a dormant deal intended to prevent it from building a nuclear weapon.
“I continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this outcome,” Biden said on the second day of a four-day visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia. It's his first trip to the Middle East as president.
Biden’s emphasis on a diplomatic solution contrasted with Lapid, who said Iran must face a real threat of force before it will agree to give up on its nuclear ambitions.
“Words will not stop them, Mr. President. Diplomacy will not stop them,” Lapid said. “The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that if they continue to develop their nuclear program the free world will use force.”
Lapid suggested that he and Biden were in agreement, despite his tougher rhetoric toward Iran.
“I don’t think there’s a light between us,” he said. “We cannot allow Iran to become nuclear.”
Biden, too, said, “We will not, let me say it again, we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
He warned that his patience is wearing thin for Iran to rejoin the nuclear deal, a day after saying he’d be willing to use force against Tehran as a last resort. The president said the U.S. had laid out for the Iranian leadership a path to return to the nuclear deal and was still waiting for a response.
“When that will come, I’m not certain,” Biden said. "But we’re not going to wait forever.”
What happened to the nuclear deal with Iran?
When Biden was elected to office, he made it a key priority to resurrect the Iran nuclear deal brokered by Barack Obama’s administration - but which was abandoned by Donald Trump in 2018.
Administration officials however were becoming increasingly pessimistic about the chances of getting Tehran back into compliance.
Israeli officials have sought to use Biden’s first visit to the Middle East as president to underscore that Iran’s nuclear program has progressed too far and encourage the Biden administration to scuttle efforts to revive the deal.
Israel opposed the original nuclear deal because its limitations on Iran’s nuclear enrichment would expire and the agreement didn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program or military activities in the region.
Instead of the US reentering the deal, Israel would prefer strict sanctions in hopes of leading to a more sweeping accord.
The one-on-one talks between Biden and Lapid marked the centerpiece of a 48-hour visit by Biden aimed at strengthening already tight relations between the US and Israel. The leaders issued a joint declaration emphasizing military cooperation and a commitment to keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
In the joint statement, the United States said it is ready to use “all elements of its national power” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.
Iran announced last week that it has enriched uranium to 60% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade quality.
The joint declaration could hold important symbolic importance for Biden’s upcoming meeting with Arab leaders when he travels to Saudi Arabia on Friday in an attempt to strengthen a regionwide alliance against Iran.