Bennett lands in US on first state visit as PM, ahead of meeting with Biden

Bennett lands in US on first state visit as PM, ahead of meeting with Biden

Iran set to top agenda as Israeli leader to sit down Wednesday with Blinken, Austin; on Thursday he will convene with the US president

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett landed early Wednesday in the United States, kicking off his first state visit overseas since taking office, during which he will meet with US President Joe Biden.

The trip comes in the midst of heightened tensions with Jerusalem’s regional enemy Iran, and as Israel grapples with a gradual resurgence of hostilities on its southern border with the Gaza Strip.

Bennett, who landed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, was scheduled to meet Wednesday with senior US administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and on Thursday with Biden

In a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office before his departure, Bennett said the top priority in his conversation with Biden would be Iran, “especially the leapfrogging in the past two to three years in the Iranian nuclear program.”

He said other issues would also be discussed, including preserving Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East, confronting the coronavirus pandemic and economic matters.

Bennett has spoken out against the possibility of a new nuclear accord between Iran and world powers, and says that any agreement must also put the brakes on Iran’s regional aggression.

Earlier this week, Bennett told the cabinet that he would tell the American president “that now is the time to halt the Iranians, to stop this thing,” and not to reenter “a nuclear deal that has already expired and is not relevant, even to those who thought it was once relevant.”

Bennett repeated that stance Tuesday in a Zoom call with US congressmen.

“There’s a new government in the US and a new government in Israel, and I bring with me from Jerusalem a new spirit of cooperation, and this rests on the special and long relationship between the two countries,” Bennett said before takeoff.

Bennett took office two months ago after cobbling together a ruling coalition of eight disparate political parties — ranging from right-wing parties to the Islamist Ra’am faction — that ousted longtime leader Benjamin Netanyahu from office following the country’s fourth consecutive parliamentary election in two years.

Ahead of his US trip, Bennett told The New York Times in an interview published Tuesday that he would neither annex West Bank territory nor allow it to become a Palestinian state, since the left-to-right composition of his coalition government meant that drastic diplomatic moves in either direction were off the table for now.

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