US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will “probably” meet before year’s end, the White House says, a step toward easing what had been a strained relationship but still short of the full-blown Oval Office invitation Netanyahu has long sought.
“They have agreed that they will meet, probably before the end of this year, and all the details of the wheres and the whens are still being worked out,” said John Kirby, the strategic communications director at the US National Security Council. He was speaking following a phone call between the two men.
He said later the meeting would occur in the autumn in the United States.
“These are two leaders that know each other, have known each other for a long time. And as friends can and friends should, you speak honestly, openly, forthrightly, candidly, you lay it out there. And President Biden has done that,” Kirby said.
Earlier, Netanyahu’s office said Biden invited the prime minister to meet in the United States. The lack of a White House invite has angered Netanyahu, who returned to office in December after previously serving as prime minister for more than a decade.
Biden has invited Israeli President Isaac Herzog for talks at the White House on Tuesday. Welcoming Herzog, whose role is largely ceremonial, provides Biden an opportunity to demonstrate his pro-Israel credentials, even as he continues to harbor deep concerns about Netanyahu’s leadership.
Tensions between Biden and Netanyahu’s right-wing government have persisted for months, in part over contentious judicial reforms and what Biden regards as extremist positions taken by members of Netanyahu’s government. Israel’s moves to expand settlements in the occupied West Bank have also drawn US criticism.
The two men spoke by phone Monday in what Netanyahu’s office described as a “long and warm conversation.” Israel’s readout said Biden had invited Netanyahu to the United States for a meeting, though it didn’t specify if the talks would occur at the White House or somewhere else.
Biden himself has said on multiple occasions over the past few months that he didn’t foresee inviting Netanyahu to Washington anytime soon.
Speaking to CNN earlier this month, Biden called some members of Netanyahu’s government “one of the most extremist members of cabinets that I’ve seen” and suggested the prime minister was still grappling with his own political situation.
“Bibi, I think, is trying to work through how he could work through his existing problems in terms of his coalition,” Biden told Fareed Zakaria.
Biden didn’t answer directly when Zakaria asked when Netanyahu would get a White House invitation.
Kirby said the two men discussed a “broad range of global and regional issues” in their phone call on Monday.
“The president underscored his iron-clad, unwavering commitment to Israel’s security and he condemned recent acts of terror against Israeli citizens,” he said.
They also discussed Iran and the “need to seek a two-state solution and improve the security solution in the West Bank.”
Biden also “reiterated in the context of the current debate in Israel about judicial reform the need for the broadest possible consensus and that shared democratic values have always been and must remain a hallmark of the US-Israel relationship,” Kirby said.