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Israeli PM says countering Iran will top Biden visit agenda

Expanding joint action to counter Iran will top the agenda during US President Joe Biden's upcoming visit to Israel, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Sunday,

Prime Minister Yair Lapid. (Photo by DEBBIE HILL / POOL / AFP)

Expanding joint action to counter Iran will top the agenda during US President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to Israel, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Sunday, urging a “decisive” response to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Addressing his second cabinet meeting since taking office on July 1, Lapid called Biden — who is due in Jerusalem on Wednesday — “one of the closest friends that Israel has ever had in American politics”.

The visit “will focus first and foremost on the issue of Iran,” said Lapid, who is serving as premier and foreign minister of a caretaker Israeli government until elections scheduled for November 1.

According to an International Atomic Energy Agency report that emerged over the weekend, Iran has informed the Vienna-based watchdog about enhancements in its uranium enrichment capacity.

“Yesterday, it was revealed that Iran is enriching uranium in advanced centrifuges in complete contravention of the agreements it has signed,” Lapid said Sunday.

“The international response needs to be decisive: to return to the UN Security Council and activate the sanctions mechanism at full force,” he added.

Israel opposes the restoration of a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers that offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

The US walked out of the deal in 2018 under then president Donald Trump, who proceeded to reimpose biting sanctions on Tehran.

Many in Israel cheered that development, which prompted Iran to step away from many of the nuclear commitments it made under the accord.

Negotiations seeking to restore the deal, including indirect talks with the US, took off in Vienna in April last year, but have been at an impasse since March.

Beyond Iran’s nuclear programme, Israel has sounded growing alarm about Tehran’s support for the Lebanese group Hezbollah, which this month sent drones towards an Israeli Mediterranean oil rig that Beirut claims is in disputed waters.

The Jewish state has also accused Iranian agents of plotting to kidnap or kill Israelis in Istanbul.

“Israel will not stand idly by while Iran tries to attack us,” Lapid said. “We will discuss with the president and his team expanding security cooperation against all threats.”

The White House’s National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Thursday said “greater collaboration” on issues such as air defence, particularly with regards to countering Tehran, would be on Biden’s agenda during the Middle East trip.

Biden’s tour also includes a stop in Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main regional rival.

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