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Israel’s President Herzog concludes Washington visit with Oval Office sit-down

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Joe Biden lauds the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the Lebanon maritime deal.

By Mike Wagenheim, JNS I

It took “guts” for Israel to sign the American-brokered maritime border deal with Lebanon, U.S. President Joe Biden told Israeli President Isaac Herzog ahead of their Oval Office meeting on Wednesday.

“I have just completed a very detailed, in-depth discussion with the president of the United States, Joe Biden, a true friend of Israel, as part of the unique relationship, the unbreakable bond, the historic relations between Israel and the United States. We had an open and frank discussion on many issues. I thanked the president for the U.S. leadership in carving out the Lebanon maritime border agreement,” Herzog told reporters at the conclusion of the sit-down with Biden.

Seemingly no meeting between an American and Israeli official can go without discussion of Iran, but it has generally been contained over the last two years to the nuclear realm. Herzog highlighted the Islamic Republic’s brutal crackdown on protesters and its supplying of kamikaze drones for attacks on Ukrainian civilians as examples of why Israel has consistently said Tehran can’t be expected to negotiate in good faith.

“Mr. President, today marks 40 days to the killing of Mahsa Amini, the Iranian woman who protested, and today the Iranian regime is crushing thousands of Iranian citizens, men, young men, women, who are demonstrating and simply pleading to have their own liberties. And this is an example of the way Iran is working, crushing its own citizens, moving towards nuclear weapons, and supplying lethal weapons that are killing innocent citizens in Ukraine,” Herzog told Biden in a public opening statement before their meeting.

Biden, meanwhile, reiterated what he says is his tried and true support for Israel, bragging about the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor bestowed on him by Herzog during Biden’s visit to Israel in July.

“We’re going to discuss the ironclad commitment, and I’ve said this 5,000 times in my career, the ironclad commitment the United States has to Israel based on our principles, our ideals, our values. They’re the same values. I have often said, Mr. President, if there were not an Israel, we’d have to invent one,” Biden told Herzog in his opening statement.

Biden seemed eager to highlight the maritime border deal brokered by his envoy Amos Hochstein, an Israeli American.

“I think it’s an extraordinary breakthrough. It took a lot of courage for you to step up and step into it. It took some real guts, and I think it took principled and persistent diplomacy to get it done and I compliment you and I compliment the government,” said Biden, who noted he had been involved in talks on a deal since his time as vice president.

Among those joining Biden and Herzog were U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and the National Security Council’s Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk.

President Herzog seemingly accidentally revealed Biden’s participation in the upcoming COP27 climate conference in Sharm El Sheikh, with Herzog saying that “you and I will participate together with leaders from all over the world.” Biden has not yet publicly committed to attending the conference in Egypt. Herzog said the conference’s objectives “can serve as a common denominator for so many nations and also between Israel and the United States.”

The meeting concluded a two-day whirlwind series of sit-downs for Herzog, including a meeting earlier in the day with Sullivan, in which Iran was the main topic of discussion.

On Wednesday afternoon, Herzog gave an interview to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, during which he said he was “extremely pleased to see this overwhelming reaction against the comments by Kanye West,” when asked about the entertainer’s recent anti-Semitic rants. “It’s a global problem. We see it in many places. We also assume that wherever you have an energy crisis, another economic crisis, the first ones to be blamed unfortunately throughout history are the Jews. The lessons are clear.”

Herzog also reiterated Israel’s humanitarian and non-lethal support for Ukraine, including an offer of help with early-warning detection systems against missile and drone attacks on civilian populations. He fended off criticism by Ukrainian officials that Israel should be doing more.

“There are things that strategically and technically we cannot supply. We are discussing it intimately with all our partners, and of course we have to take into account the certain strategic elements that pertain to Israel’s functioning both vis-à-vis our region and vis-à-vis the rest of the world,” said Herzog. “We want to find solutions to end this conflict, and definitely we support the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have invited Israeli President Isaac Herzog to address a joint session of Congress as the Jewish state prepares to celebrate 75 years since its founding.

“It has always been a point of pride for our country that President Truman immediately recognized the State of Israel at its establishment. Since that landmark moment, the United States and Israel have shared an unbreakable bond rooted in common security, shared values, and friendship,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote. “Across the decades, the United States Congress has been proud to stand in solidarity with Israel on a bipartisan and bicameral basis. It is our hope that the Congress will have the opportunity to hear from you at this historic and joyous milestone in the success of the State of Israel and the U.S.-Israel alliance.”

The joint letter, addressed to Herzog, comes as the president visits Washington for the first time as president, meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and officials from his administration.

A date for the session will be announced later.


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