Biden Due to Talk Iran With Israel’s Bennett, After Afghan Bombing Delay

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden gestures during a meeting with Israel's President Reuven Rivlin at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 28, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

JERUSALEM, Aug 27 (Reuters) – After being forced to postpone their first face-to-face meeting because of the Afghanistan suicide bombings, U.S. President Joe Biden was scheduled to host Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the White House on Friday, with Iran on the agenda.

Thursday’s Islamic State attack outside the Kabul airport, which killed 13 U.S. soldiers and 72 Afghans during a chaotic U.S. evacuation mission from the country, occurred just hours before the Biden-Bennett meeting, initially causing a delay.

But as the U.S. death toll mounted, U.S. and Israeli officials said the meeting had been called off and rescheduled for Friday. Israeli media reported the two leaders would meet at 10:25 a.m. eastern time (14:25 GMT) on Friday.

In a statement early on Friday, Bennett’s office said Biden called the Israeli premier and “thanked (him) for his understanding of the change in time of their meeting, in light of the events in Afghanistan”.

Bennett expressed his deepest condolences over the attacks and said Israel shared with the U.S. in its sorrow.

Biden and Bennett’s meeting, the first since the two men took office, is aimed at resetting the tone of U.S.-Israeli relations and finding common ground on Iran despite differences on how to deal with its nuclear programme.

The two leaders will try to turn the page on years of tensions between Bennett’s predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was close to former President Donald Trump, and the last Democratic administration led by Barack Obama with Biden as his vice president.

Bennett, a far-right politician who ended Netanyahu’s 12-year run as prime minister in June, is expected to press Biden to harden his approach to Iran and halt negotiations aimed at reviving an international nuclear deal with Tehran that Trump abandoned.

Biden will tell Bennett that he shares Israel’s concern that Iran has expanded its nuclear program but remains committed for now to diplomacy with Tehran, a senior administration official said.

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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