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US, Israeli Leaders to Hold First White House Talks

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Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with Secretary of State Antony Blinken (not pictured) at the Willard Hotel in Washington, Aug. 25, 2021.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with Secretary of State Antony Blinken (not pictured) at the Willard Hotel in Washington, Aug. 25, 2021.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's first meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden, initially scheduled for Thursday, was rescheduled for Friday in the wake of devastating bombings in Afghanistan.

Bennett was set to visit the White House Thursday for talks about Iran, security issues and the coronavirus pandemic.

The meeting will be the first time the two leaders have spoken in person since Bennett became prime minister in June.

"It's a chance for the prime minister to hear directly from the president his ironclad commitment to Israel's security and self-defense, and supporting Israel's defense needs," a senior Biden administration official told reporters ahead of the meeting.

The official said the impending end of the United States' military involvement in Afghanistan will free more resources and attention for other priorities, including relations with Israel.

But the talks were delayed, as Biden focused his attention on suicide bombings outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul Thursday that killed at least 12 U.S. troops and wounded several others, Reuters reported.

A major focus of the talks between Biden and Bennett will be Iran, its nuclear program and what the official called the country's "destabilizing activities in the region."

"Iran's nuclear program has just dramatically broken out of the box, and it's accelerating from week to week. This is a very serious problem, and the two leaders, I think, will have the opportunity to sit together and discuss what to do about it," the U.S. official said.

Bennett met separately with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday.

The United States and Iran have held several rounds of indirect talks about rejoining the 2015 international agreement that limited Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. That agreement came about amid concerns Iran was attempting to develop nuclear weapons, which it has denied.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018, and Iran subsequently boosted its stockpiles of enriched uranium and further enriched the material to higher levels of purity.

"I will tell President Biden that it is time to stop the Iranians ... not to give them a lifeline in the form of reentering into an expired nuclear deal," Bennett said Sunday.

Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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