Monday, March 8, 2010

VP Biden arrives in Israel; Biden to Haaretz: Nuclear Iran would threaten United States as well as Israel

(Haaretz,Reuters).The Obama administration has boosted U.S. defense ties to Israel and will close ranks with its ally against any threat from a nuclear-armed Iran, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Monday ahead of a trip to Israel.

Biden arrived on Monday afternoon in Israel, where he plans to deliver a message to the Israeli public about U.S.-Israel relations, the Iranian nuclear program and the Middle East peace process.

Biden, the most senior U.S. official to visit Israel since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, is widely expected to caution his hosts not to attack Iran pre-emptively while world powers pursue fresh sanctions against Tehran.

In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Biden emphasized Washington's efforts to drum up greater international diplomatic pressure on the Iranians, as well as unilateral measures imposed by the U.S. Treasury.

Asked about the prospect of an Israeli attack, he said, "though I cannot answer the hypothetical questions you raised about Iran, I can promise the Israeli people that we will confront, as allies, any security challenge it will face. A nuclear-armed Iran would constitute a threat not only to Israel - it would also constitute a threat to the United States."

Meanwhile on Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that Iran does not pose an existential threat to Israel.

"Iran isn't an existential threat to Israel at the moment, but it has the potential to develop into one, and we are working to prevent that," said Barak, speaking before the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Biden, however, emphasized the Iranian threat and reiterated the United States' commitment to Israel.

"[The Obama administration] gives Israel annual military aid worth $3 billion. We revived defense consultations between the two countries, doubled our efforts to ensure Israel preserves its qualitative military edge in the region, expanded our joint exercises and cooperation on missile-defense systems."