This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid jointly pledged to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, although the two allies remained divided on specific ways to deal with Tehran.
“We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” Biden told a news conference on July 14 following the joint signing of the Jerusalem Declaration during the U.S. president’s first Middle East trip since taking office in January 2021.
The statement also reaffirmed Washington’s support for Israel’s regional military edge and its ability “to defend itself by itself.”
“The United States stresses that integral to this pledge is the commitment never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and that it is prepared to use all elements of its national power to ensure that outcome,” the statement added.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Iran will have a “harsh and regrettable response” to any “mistake” committed by Washington or its allies.
“The great nation of Iran will not accept any insecurity or crisis in the region, and Washington and its allies should know that any mistake will be met by a harsh and regrettable response from Iran,” Raisi said during a speech.
Lapid said after the signing that “the only way to stop a nuclear Iran is if Iran knows the free world will use force.”
Israel and the United States still differ on specific policy toward Iran.
Biden has said he wants to return the United States to the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that Iran signed with world powers while he was vice president under President Barack Obama.
But then-President Donald Trump pulled out of the pact in 2018, saying Iran was not living up to the terms of the deal and was financing terror in the Middle East, a claim Tehran has denied.
On-and-off negotiations are being conducted between Iran and Western powers looking to revive the pact. Israel, a bitter rival to Iran, has opposed the nuclear deal, fearing the terms could lead to Tehran eventually developing nuclear weapons.
Biden, speaking to Israeli TV, said the deal represents the best opportunity to block Iran’s attempts to develop a nuclear bomb.
“The only thing worse than the Iran which exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons, and if we can return to the deal we can hold them tight,” he said.
When asked if the United States could use force if needed, he responded, “If that was the last resort, yes.”
Opponents of the pact have said the sanctions relief tied to the deal would provide Tehran additional money to support its proxy forces in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq.
Biden will also likely face continued opposition from Saudi Arabia when he travels to the Gulf nation later in the week. Sunni Muslim-led Saudi Arabia is also a bitter rival to Shi’ite-majority Iran, with both competing for influence in the region.