The President's News Conference With Prime Minister Yair Lapid of Israel in Jerusalem, Israel
Moderator. The President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of the State of Israel will now sign the Jerusalem U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration. This historic document reaffirms the unbreakable bond between the United States of America and the State of Israel and paves the way to a future of increased partnership based on shared values and a shared vision.
[At this point, President Biden and Prime Minister Lapid signed the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Joint Declaration and then proceeded with remarks as follows.]
Thank you, Prime Minister Lapid and President Biden. The Prime Minister of the State of Israel will now make his statement, followed by the President of the United States, after which we will take questions from the media.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the floor is yours.
Prime Minister Lapid. Thank you. Mr. President, in March, 1965, on Dr. Martin Luther King's famous March from Selma to Montgomery, walking beside him in the front row was a Jewish rabbi—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. When he returned home this—that day, Rabbi Heschel wrote in his diary, "Today I felt my legs were praying."
In the State of Israel, Mr. President, our legs pray every single day. Nothing is—in our lives is taken for granted. My father was a Jewish child in the Budapest ghetto, hiding from those who tried to kill him. The fact that I am standing here today did not happen by itself. We learned the lesson, Mr. President: At all times, Israel must be strong, free, and safe, with a powerful army that can defend our citizens.
Be it Joshua crossing the Jordan River or Dr. King crossing the Alabama River, the principle is the same: If you want your independence, your hands must defend you, and your legs must pray for you. You must march fearlessly towards the river.
This past year, with Russia's unjustified invasion of Ukraine, with the Iranian nuclear threat becoming more dangerous, and with the threats of terrorism worldwide, we were all reminded of something: In order to protect freedom, sometimes force must be used. Nobody wants that, but neither can we shy away from it, on the side of terrorists and people who will not hesitate to exploit any weakness, people who do not play by the rules.
Those of us who were fortunate enough to be born free people sometimes do not understand the intensity of the hatred behind the attack on democracy. What we—did we do to them? What makes them crash planes into skyscrapers in New York and fire rockets at kindergartens in the city of Sderot? The answer is fear.
What scares them the most is that their citizens, their people can see us, can see our quality of life—the dynamism and creativity of our economy, the rights of women and the LGBTQ community, freedom of religion, freedom of speech.
Our way of life is what threatens them. It's what makes the Iranian regime develop is—its nuclear program, Hizballah aims its missiles at us, and terrorist organizations worldwide send suicide bombers. They want to destroy the only Jewish state in the world. That—we will never let that happen.
Words will not stop them, Mr. President. Diplomacy will not stop them. The only thing that will stop Iran is knowing that the—if they continue to develop their nuclear program, the free world will use force. The only way to stop them is to put a credible military threat on the table.
You have said many times, Mr. President, that big countries do not bluff. I completely agree. It should not be a bluff, but the real thing. The Iranian regime must know that if they continue to deceive the world, they will pay a heavy price.
Here in the Middle East, we have an alternative now. It is growing and gaining power. We are creating an alliance of moderate countries that believe in peace, that believe that our children deserve the opportunity to live a better life.
From here, from Jerusalem—the eternal capital of the State of Israel—you will travel to Saudi Arabia. Your visit to Saudi Arabia is important for Israel and for the entire region, for our security and for the future and prosperity of the Middle East. We send with you, to all the nations of the region—including, of course, the Palestinians—a message of peace.
Israel wants peace and believes in peace. We will never yield an inch of our security. We are obligated to be cautious at every step. But to any country, any nation that wants peace and normalization with us, we say, "Ahlan wa sahlan. Shalom. Welcome."
Mr. President, you will meet with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and Iraq. I would like you to pass them all a message from us: "Our hand is outstretched for peace. We are ready to share our technology and experience, ready for our people to meet and learn about one another, ready for our scientists to collaborate and our businesses to cooperate."
The Book of Psalms says all of this in one verse. Chapter 29 reads——
[Prime Minister Lapid recited the verse in Hebrew. He then recited it in English as follows.]
"The Lord will give strength to His people. The Lord will bless His people with peace."
If we are strong, if we are determined, if the world understands that we will not hesitate to defend ourselves and our values, peace can come.
Mr. President, our relationship runs deep. It crosses party lines. It connects not only our governments, but also our peoples. This friendship is one of the cornerstones of Israel's national security. It is moving, and it is certainly not taken for granted. Throughout all your years in public service, you were one of the chief architects of this relationship. For that, you have the everlasting gratitude of the people of Zion.
Thank you, Mr. President.
President Biden. Thank you very much, Prime Minister. [Inaudible]—an eloquent statement.
I'm honored to be back here in the capital of Israel.
As I said yesterday, I've met every Prime Minister since Golda Meir, and it was a pleasure to be able to spend some time with you today and to get to know you better. Mr. Prime Minister, a deep love and respect for Israel has only taken a deeper hold of my heart and my gut since I first visited here back in 1973 as a young Senator.
I'm returning for my 10th visit as—this time, as President of the United States. But I've never forgotten what Prime Minister Meir told me when I was a brandnew junior Senator from the State of Delaware. It was just weeks before the Yom Kippur war, and she could see on my face that I was worried.
As we stood before the press taking questions and pictures, she looked at me, and without press hearing, she said: "Don't look so worried, Senator. Israel has a secret weapon." And I looked at her as I turned my head, and she was going to tell—I just looked at her, and she said: "We have nowhere else to go." I'll never forget what she told me. That was nearly 50 years ago. Fifty years ago, the threats then were real. And the threats to Israel remain real today.
The scourge of anti-Semitism still marches around the world, and we must never forget the horrors which an unchecked hatred can lead. And that's why I immediately—when I returned, I wanted to visit Yad Vashem—when I landed yesterday—to bear witness, to remember, to renew our vow of never—never—again.
At the same time, the Israeli—the Israel of today is not the Israel of 50 years ago. You've cultivated new resources, capabilities, new relationships, including a growing integration with neighbors in the region.
You have new tools that keep Israel strong and secure. You have an ironclad commitment from the United States of America to Israel's security. An ironclad commitment. We'll make sure that Israel can defend itself by itself.
When I was Vice President under President Obama, we passed a record-setting agreement for Israel's security: $38 billion over a 10-year period. And I was proud that, last year, we also provided an additional $1 billion to replenish Israel's Iron Dome supplies, making 2022 the largest single year of military assistance that Israel has ever received.
Yesterday I viewed some of Israel's Iron Dome technology, as well as the very promising new Iron Beam technology, a laser-enabled missile defense system. These technologies and advancements are critical. They're critical because every rocket that is intercepted is a potential life—perhaps more—that has been saved.
And as we move forward together, partners in both security and in innovation, the United States and Israel defense sectors will cooperate in new high-energy laser weapons systems that can defend Israel—Israeli lives, as well as lives of American servicemembers.
Israel and the United States also stand together to defend fundamental values and underwrite global security, prosperity, and freedom, not just for us, but for many around the world. And Putin's assault on Ukraine is a challenge to the peace and stability everywhere in the world. Putin's war must be a strategic failure, and the free world must sustain our resolve to help Ukraine defend its democracy. The United States will continue to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people who have been devastated and displaced by the Russian violence.
Today you and I also discussed America's commitment to ensuring Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon. This is a vital security interest to both Israel and the United States and, I would add, for the rest of the world as well. I continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this outcome. And we'll continue to work with Israel to counter other threats from Iran throughout the region, including support for terrorism and the ballistic missile program that continues and the proliferation of weapons to terrorists and proxies like Hizballah.
We'll also continue building on the Abraham Accords, which I strongly support, because they deepen—they deepen—Israel's integration into the broader region and establish lasting ties for business, cooperation, and tourism.
We've just completed the first leaders' summit among Israel, India, United States, and the United Arab Emirates to deepen the economic ties between the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific, to create new partnerships to tackle global challenges, like food insecurity and clean energy technology.
Regional integration is also the goal of the historic Negev Forum, which took place here in Israel this past March. Israel's integration in the region, Israel's peace with its neighbors, these are essential goals. Tomorrow I'll be the first American President to fly from Israel directly to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. That represents important progress.
And when I see the Saudi leadership tomorrow, I'll be carrying a direct message, a message of peace and extraordinary opportunities that a more stable and integrated region could bring to the region and, quite frankly, the whole world.
As we work together toward greater integration—greater integration, we'll also continue to work for—toward a lasting negotiated peace between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people. Israel must remain an independent, democratic, Jewish state—the ultimate guarantee and guarantor of security of the Jewish people not only in Israel, but the entire world. I believe that to my core.
And the best way to achieve that remains a two-state solution for two people, both of whom have deep and ancient roots in this land, living side-by-side in peace and security; both states fully respecting the equal rights of their citizens; both people enjoying equal measures of freedom. And any more that takes us further from that outcome—I believe—anything is detrimental to the long-term security of Israel.
Prime Minister Lapid, Israel and the United States are natural partners because we share the same values. Our people share the same innovative spirit, the same determination to preserve and persevere through every single challenge.
That's why we're launching a new High-Level Strategic Dialogue on Technology that's going to help Israel and the United States harness critical and emerging technologies and apply them to issues that matter most to our mutual futures.
So thank you, Mr. President [Prime Minister],* for welcoming me back, for fostering the enduring bonds—and continuing them—that link the people of Israel and the United States.
That's what this visit is about: affirming those ties that stretch back to just 11 minutes—11 minutes—after Israel declared statehood, when the United States became the first country in the world to recognize Israel. And I assure you, it will be the last country in the world ever to walk away from Israel.
Ties that have grown deeper and broader with each passing year and now encompass a 21st-century partnership, one grounded on ageless values and looking squarely at the future. We're here to stay, Mr. President—Mr. Prime Minister. Like it or not, we're with you. [Laughter] There's no way out. [Laughter]
I want to thank you very, very much for your hospitality. And I mean it from the bottom of my heart that your security, the security—the—is going to determine the security of Jewish people around the world for the rest of the world. It's critical. And we're in it with you. Thank you.
Moderator. Thank you very much, Mr. President. And before we move on to the—a question, there is a technical change on the stage.
[The teleprompters were removed by staffers.]
President Biden. These guys work awful hard.
Prime Minister Lapid. Yes, we're just standing here. [Laughter]
Moderator. Thank you very much. We will now be taking questions from the press. The first one to ask a question to Ms. Gili Cohen from Channel 11, Israeli television.
Status of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel/Iran/Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
Q. Thank you, Mr. President. I want to ask: Will you set a deadline for the nuclear talks or define a certain stage when you will say there is no more opportunity to revive the nuclear deal? And what will happen afterwards?
And another question, sir. You'll visit, tomorrow, East Jerusalem, and you won't be accompanied by an Israeli official. Does this represent a change in your administration's view regarding the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and if East Jerusalem is part of it? Thank you.
President Biden. The answer to your last question is no. [Laughter]
With regard to your first question, we've laid out for the people—for the leadership of Iran what we're willing to accept in order to get back in the JCPOA. We're waiting for their response. When that will occur—when that will come, I'm not certain. But we are not going to wait forever.
Moderator. Mr. President, do you want to——
Prime Minister Lapid. The question was for the President.
Moderator. Mr. President, do you want to call on the next question?
President Biden. Sure. I was given a list here. Steve Holland of Reuters.
2018 Death of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi/Saudi Arabia-U.S. Relations/Middle East/Human Rights
Q. Thank you, sir. Thank you. There is some opposition back home to your meeting with Saudi leaders this week. What will you say to Saudi leaders, specifically to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, about the Khashoggi murder and other human rights practices?
And if I may, Prime Minister Lapid, how close are you to an agreement with Saudi Arabia to gain overflight rights? And should we expect that soon? Thank you.
President Biden. With regard to the question you asked me, my views on Khashoggi have—they've been absolutely, positively clear. And I have never been quiet about talking about human rights.
The question that I'm—the reason I'm going to Saudi Arabia, though, is much broader. It's to promote U.S. interests, promote U.S. interests in a way that I think we have an opportunity to reassert what I think we made a mistake of walking away from: our influence in the Middle East.
I'm going to be meeting with nine other heads of state. It's not just—it happens to be in Saudi Arabia. And so there are so many issues at stake that I want to make clear that we can continue to lead in the region and not create a vacuum, a vacuum that is filled by China and/or Russia, against the interests of both Israel and the United States and many other countries.
And so the purpose of the visit is to coordinate with nine heads of state what are in U.S. interests and I believe in Israel's interests as well.
Q. So you don't expect to bring up human rights?
Moderator. Well, let's let Prime Minister——
President Biden. I will bring up—I always bring up human rights. I always bring up human rights. But my position on Khashoggi has been so clear. If anyone doesn't understand it in Saudi Arabia and everywhere else, then they haven't been around for a while.
Prime Minister Lapid. About the overflights of Saudi Arabia, of course, as I was saying in my speech, we are all for promoting normalizations with every country in the region that it is possible. But since the President is going to Saudi Arabia, and he will—there will be a finalization of the issues over there, I will let the President finalize this when he's in Jeddah.
Moderator. Thank you, Prime Minister.
President Biden. I'm optimistic. [Laughter]
Moderator. And the next question will come from Ms. Tal Schneider from Times of Israel.
U.S. Visa Waiver Program
Q. Hi, hello. Thank you for being in Jerusalem. It's good to see you.
Israelis have been waiting to hear developments on the Visa Waiver Program. We know that there are hurdles, but—to get there. But can you set a deadline after which Israelis will be granted with a waiver to enter the U.S.? Will you bring this issue with the opposition leader, Netanyahu, when you meet him today?
And another question for our Prime Minister: There is a discussion about regional defense cooperation that includes Israel and the Saudis, but we hear that there are technical difficulties as well as other reservations from the Saudis with respect to defense system, which means it's mostly about Israel sharing its intelligence, its intel. How do you see the cooperation moving along with those problems?
President Biden. With regard to your question to me, we are working very, very, very hard to eliminate the lack of precision in the applications, many times, for the visa program. It is my hope and expectation that in the next several months, we'll have it worked out.
Prime Minister Lapid. And jumping on the subject, and we urge the Israeli opposition to become—to be more responsible and help with the legislation needed to finalize this.
As for your question, it is no secret that we're doing our best, with our American friends, to work on a regional security architecture. So this was no secret. The details of this apparently are, so I'm not going to go into details on this.
But we are working with everybody we can in order to promote regional security, especially facing Iran's regime and the terror policy they bring to the table.
President Biden. All right. The next person to ask us a question, I guess—[laughter]—is Nadia.
Q. Thank you, Mr. President. Nadia Bilbassy of Al Arabiya Television. Allow me to press you a little bit on Iran, if I may.
You visited the——
President Biden. No, I'm not going to allow that. [Laughter]
[The President pretended to begin leaving the podium.]
Yes, we've got to walk off. [Laughter]
Q. You are visiting the Middle East here in Israel and then you go into Saudi Arabia where you meeting with King Salman and other GCC leaders. You know in advance, before you come here, their position, their concern, their fear about Iran nuclear program and Iran's support for proxies in the region.
Tangibly, what are you offering them to assuage their fear and concern, practically? Is this anything that you're offering them to make them feel comfortable that the United States are on the same page with them?
And if I may, Mr. Prime Minister, what are the differences and the similarities between you and President Biden regarding Iran? Do you see eye to eye on all the issues? You alluded to some differences just now.
And, if I may, I wanted you to confirm to us today your position in supporting the two-state solution as a caretaker Prime Minister and if should you be elected as the next Prime Minister of Israel. Thank you so much.
President Biden. With regard to Iran and convincing the Saudis and others that we're—mean what we say is, we mean what we say. They have an opportunity to accept this agreement that's been laid down. If they don't, we made it absolutely clear: We will not—let me say it again—we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.
Prime Minister Lapid. Well, with regards to the question about Iran, we have an open discussion about what is the best way to deal with it. But I don't think there's a light between us in terms of—these are all means to an end.
We cannot allow Iran to become nuclear. Israel asserts the rights to act freely on the subject. But we are, of course, discussing everything with our greatest ally, which is the United States.
About the two-state solution, I haven't changed my position. A two-state solution is a guarantee for a strong democratic State of Israel with a Jewish majority.
Moderator. Thank you very much. This concludes the signing ceremony and the press conference. Please remain seated until the leaders have left the room.
President Biden. Thank you all so much.
Moderator. This concludes the——
NOTE: The President's news conference began at 2:34 p.m. at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem hotel. In his remarks, the President referred to President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin of Russia. A reporter referred to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, The President's News Conference With Prime Minister Yair Lapid of Israel in Jerusalem, Israel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/356844