Biden and Israel’s Netanyahu Hold Long-Awaited First Call
US President Joe Biden made a long-awaited first phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday after a delay that had seen Washington deny it was snubbing Israel‘s leader.
There had been speculation that the Democratic president was signaling displeasure over Netanyahu’s close ties with former President Donald Trump, who called the right-wing leader two days after his inauguration in 2017.
Biden has spoken with about a dozen other world leaders since taking office on Jan. 20. The White House had said that Netanyahu, who differs with Biden on some key Middle East issues such as Iran, would be the first regional leader he would call.
The delay in the traditional courtesy call was also widely regarded by analysts as a sign that Biden did not want to be seen boosting Netanyahu ahead of Israel‘s March 23 elections. Some said it could also foreshadow chillier relations if Netanyahu wins re-election.
“It was a good conversation,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office where he was meeting US labor leaders.
Biden and Netanyahu spoke for about an hour on issues including Iran and Israel‘s budding relations with Arab and Muslim countries in the region, Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
Netanyahu’s office said the two men “discussed the future advancement of the peace accords, the Iranian threat and regional challenges, and agreed to continue their dialogue,” the statement said.
“The two leaders noted their longstanding personal connection and said that they would work together strengthening the steadfast alliance between Israel and the US,” it added.
They also spoke about ways to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the statement said.
The White House had denied that the delay in a Biden courtesy call was meant to disrespect Netanyahu, with spokeswoman Jen Psaki saying last week that it was “not an intentional dis.”
Netanyahu this week acknowledged differences with Biden over Iranian and Palestinian issues, but said the two enjoy a strong working relationship.
The Israeli leader may find the two countries’ alliance tested if Washington restores US participation in the Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew, and opposes Israeli settlement building on land where Palestinians seek statehood.
Netanyahu was almost in lock-step over Middle East policy with Trump.
An Israeli diplomat told Reuters that Israel had been concerned about the delay in Biden calling Netanyahu, but was mindful that the US president was dealing with other issues first, such as the pandemic and challenges from Russia and China.
The fact that Netanyahu was the first Middle East leader called was taken as a positive sign, the diplomat said.