At Saban Forum, U.S. vice president urges Israel to stop settlement expansion, and to do more against 'vigilante justice' attacks against Palestinians.
Vice President Joe Biden called on Israel to stop the demolition of homes of terrorists' families, which he described as "collective punishment.” Biden also criticized expansion of Jewish settlements "in the West Bank and East Jerusalem” and called on the government to do more to stop "vigilante justice” attacks against Palestinians.
Biden was speaking at a noon plenary on Saturday at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum being held at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC. His speech ignored the upcoming elections, focusing instead on America’s bedrock support for Israel and the "tactical disagreements” that "should be honestly discussed between friends.”
He said that both he and President Obama feel that "we have an obligation to match the steel and the spine that the Israeli people show when it comes to the country’s security.”
Biden said "there was no daylight between us when it comes to Israel’s security.” He said that the Obama administration had provided Israel with over $17 billion in aid since it came into office six years ago, including a billion dollars for the Iron Dome anti-missile system.
Biden’s speech included his usual gushing expressions of love and support for Israel and for Prime Minister Netanyahu "although we drive each other crazy.” But Biden’s speech was also notable for its carefully worded formulations of U.S. policy which he read from prepared text and which were likely composed in close consultation with the White House.
Biden spent much of his time discussing the talks with Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program: He described as "malarkey” any notion that he or Obama would allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. But while he estimated that the chances for an accord were "less than even”, he insisted that a "good deal” that would make the world safer is entirely possible.
Biden said that the interim deal achieved with Iran in November 2013, known as the Joint Plan of Action, had "frozen significant parts” of Iran’s nuclear program and had stopped it from "inching up towards the red line” drawn by Netanyahu in his September 2012 speech before the General Assembly in which he held up the famous poster of a bomb.
Biden said that Iran had been keeping its part of the agreement and that the modest sanctions relief that it had garnered in exchange was only a very small part of its needs. He said that the Iranian economy continues to suffer under the remaining sanctions, with high unemployment, inflation and budget deficits. The economy was now suffering further, he noted, because of the steep drop in oil prices around the world.
Biden said that the 7-month extension of talks agreed on last month was "worthwhile because now Iran understands our requirements.” He said that the goal was to complete a "core agreement” within four months and then spend another three months completing the accompanying technical details.
He called on Congress not to legislate new sanctions which, he said, could bring about the collapse of the international coalition currently participating in the sanctions regime. "Then we would lose the leverage we have to reach a good agreement,” Biden said. He said that the administration should be given "more time and space” to see whether a good agreement can be concluded.
Biden then alluded to developments inside Iran, without going into details: "There is lots of change taking place inside Iran, some good some bad. The view that the monolith can be maintained is foolish.”