Israel’s new government on Sunday pledged close cooperation with the United States even as it expressed “serious reservations” about efforts by Washington to rejoin the international pact to restrain Iran’s nuclear program.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Rome in their first face-to-face meeting since a new coalition government assumed power in the Jewish state, ending the 12-year control by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Ahead of their talks, Lapid acknowledged that “in the past few years, mistakes were made” in relations between the two countries, with Netanyahu closely aligning himself with former U.S. President Donald Trump and Republicans in the U.S. Congress, at times to the exclusion of close ties with Democratic officials.
"Israel's bipartisan standing was hurt,” Lapid said. “We will fix those mistakes together."
The top Israeli diplomat, who under a power-sharing arrangement will become the country’s prime minister in two years following new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, said he has spoken with both Democrats and Republicans since taking office and had "reminded them all that we share America's most basic, basic values — freedom, democracy, free markets and constant search for peace."
Blinken noted that although the administration of President Joe Biden is five months old and Bennett’s two weeks, "the foundation that we're working on is one of an enduring partnership, a relationship, friendship between the United States and Israel."
Lapid did not spell out Israel’s objections to the U.S. rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Trump withdrew from in 2018, saying it was not tough enough on Tehran. The former U.S. leader reimposed economic sanctions on Iran.
Biden is seeking to rejoin Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China in the agreement to block Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
"Israel has some serious reservations about the Iran nuclear deal that is being put together in Vienna,” Lapid said, adding he would make his country’s objections known privately to the U.S.
"We have the same objective,” Blinken said. “Sometimes we differ on the tactics, and we, I think, are very clear and direct to each other when that's the case and that's exactly how it's supposed to be."
Blinken and Lapid also discussed Israel's normalization accords with Gulf Arab states, as well as the need for humanitarian aid to Gaza after nearly two weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in May.
Blinken is on a multination trip to Europe. He is also holding several days of meetings with top Italian leaders, Pope Francis, Group of 20 leaders and ministerial-level officials.
After being warmly welcomed in France and Germany, Blinken left Paris Sunday for Rome, where, in addition to Lapid, he also met with the Italian foreign minister, United Nations food security agencies and U.S. embassy officials.
On Monday, Blinken and Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio will co-chair a meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, while Blinken also meets with Prime Minister Mario Draghi and President Sergio Mattarella to discuss Syria’s civil war and the humanitarian needs in that country.
The State Department says Syria remains a big concern, with tens of thousands of women and children in humanitarian camps subject to security issues as members of the Islamic State terrorist group work to exploit the camps to recruit the next generation of fighters.
Also Monday, Blinken goes to Vatican City for meetings with Pope Francis and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican foreign minister. Among the topics he and Vatican officials are expected to discuss are climate change, human trafficking and debt relief for impoverished countries.
His meeting with the pope comes ahead of an expected October meeting between the pontiff and Biden, the second Catholic U.S. president.