In his first trip to the Middle East as president, Joe Biden renewed his pledge to never allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. “There will be no nuclear Iran. This is not only a threat to Israel, but to the world,” Biden said on July 14. During the four-day tour, Biden visited Iran’s main regional rivals, Israel and Saudi Arabia. In Jeddah, Biden met with senior leaders from nine countries including the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. They committed to boosting cooperation to deter and defend against Iran and its proxies.
Biden’s visit came amid heightened international concern over Iran’s nuclear advances. In late June, diplomacy to revive the historic 2015 nuclear deal faltered after two days of last-gasp talks conducted indirectly between the United States and Iran by the European Union in Qatar.
Meanwhile, Iran’s breakout time – the time needed to produce enough highly-enriched uranium for one bomb – was down to as little as 10 days based on U.N. watchdog reports. To make a nuclear weapon, Iran would need to convert the uranium to a metal, marry it to warhead, and integrate it with a delivery system, such as a missile – steps that could take many months if not years. But since June 2022, experts have been increasingly worried about Iran starting a secret program since June, when it removed extra monitoring equipment – including 27 cameras – installed as part of the 2015 nuclear deal.
During his trip, Biden did not make significant headway integrating Israel into a new security axis with the Arab Gulf states or forming a so-called “Arab NATO.” Saudi Arabia, however, did open its airspace to all carriers – including Israeli flights. Biden became the first U.S. president to fly directly from Israel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “As we mark this important moment, Saudi Arabia’s decision can help build momentum toward Israel’s further integration into the region, including with Saudi Arabia,” he said on July 15. The Saudi move was widely seen as a step towards normalizing relations with Israel.
Biden warned that the United States was willing to use military force – as a last resort – to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. “Iran won’t reach nuclear ability on my watch,” he told Israel’s Channel 12 on the eve of his trip. Biden also said that he would not remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the U.S. terrorism list, even if it meant killing the 2015 nuclear deal. The dispute over the IRGC’s status had been a key hurdle in indirect talks with Iran on reviving the agreement.
On July 14, Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid signed the Jerusalem Declaration, which committed the United States to “use all elements of its national power” to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon. Washington also pledged to work with Israel and other partners to confront “aggression and destabilizing activities” by Iran and its militant proxies across the region.
Biden emphasized that “diplomacy is the best way” to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. “But we are not going to wait forever.” He said that Iran needed to decide if wanted to return, along with the United States, to full compliance with the 2015 deal. Indirect talks, launched in April 2021, have stalemated.
In Saudi Arabia
In Jeddah, met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de factor ruler, and King Salman. On the final day of his trip, Biden assured regional leaders that the United States will “remain an active, engaged partner” in the Middle East. “We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran,” he told a summit of the GCC+3, which included the Gulf Cooperation Council members – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – as well as Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.
The leaders discussed ways to strengthen the “deterrence and the defense capabilities of GCC member states, as well as enhanced integration and interoperability in their air and missile defenses and maritime security capabilities, and early warning systems and information sharing.” Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have long been concerned about Iran’s advanced ballistic and cruise missiles as well as its drones. The following are remarks by Biden and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan from the trip, as well as excerpts from joint declarations.
President Joe Biden
On diplomacy and Iran’s nuclear program
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 News on July 12:
Biden: “The only thing more dangerous than the Iran that exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons. Iran won’t reach nuclear ability on my watch. The only thing worse than the Iran that exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons and if we can return to the deal we can hold them tight. I think it was a gigantic mistake for the last president to get out of the deal. They're closer to a nuclear weapon now than they were before. It doesn't have anything to do with whether or not the Quds Force is going to stop or whether they're going to continue to be engaged in activities. We can act against them and still have a deal where they curtail their nuclear program. And so I still think it makes sense. We've laid it out on the table, we've made the deal, we've offered it, and it's up to Iran now.”
Q: “Are you committed to keep the IRGC on the ‘foreign terrorist organization’ list, even if that means that it kills the deal?”
Q: “In the past you've said you’ll do anything, and you say it again that you’ll ensure Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons, does that also mean sir that you would use force against Iran? Is that what that means?
Biden: “As a last resort, yes.”
In remarks during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on July 14: “There will be no nuclear Iran. This is not only a threat to Israel, but to the world.”
In remarks with Israeli Prime Minister Lapid on July 14: “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.”
In remarks with Israeli Prime Minister Lapid on July 14: “Today, you and I also discussed the 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.”
In remarks during Biden’s meeting with the GCC+3 Meeting on July 16: “And as we continue to work closely with many of you to counter the threats posed by — posed to the region by Iran, we’re also pursuing diplomacy to return constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. But no matter what, the United States is committed to ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon.”
Excerpts from the Jerusalem Declaration signed on July 14:
“The United States stresses that integral to this pledge is the commitment never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, and that it is prepared to use all elements of its national power to ensure that outcome. The United States further affirms the commitment to work together with other partners to confront Iran’s aggression and destabilizing activities, whether advanced directly or through proxies and terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”
Excerpt from the U.S.-GCC joint statement on July 16: “The leaders affirmed their support for ensuring that the Arab Gulf region is free from all weapons of mass destruction, underscoring the centrality of diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, and for confronting terrorism and all activities that threatens security and stability.”
On Iran’s regional interventions and proxies
In remarks with Israeli Prime Minister Lapid on July 14: “And we'll continue to work with Israel to counter other threats from Iran throughout the region, including support for terrorism and a ballistic missile program that continues, and the proliferation of weapons to terrorists from proxies like Hezbollah.”
In remarks on meetings in Saudi Arabia on July 15: “We further agreed to pursue a diplomatic process to achieve a wider settlement in Yemen. The Saudi — and Saudi leadership also committed to continue to facilitate the delivery of food and humanitarian goods to civilians. In this context, we discussed Saudi Arabia’s security needs to defend the Kingdom, given very real threats from Iran and Iran’s proxies.”
In remarks at the GCC+3 summit on July 16: “Around the world, we’re seeing efforts to undermine the rules-based order: with China’s increasingly coercive actions in the Indo-Pacific and beyond; with Russia’s brutal and unprovoked war against its neighboring Ukraine; and with Iran’s destabilizing activities. Here in the Middle East, we’ve also seen critical changes…. We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia, or Iran. And we’ll seek to build on this moment with active, principled American leadership.”
Excerpts from the U.S.-GCC joint statement on July 16: “The leaders commended the ongoing cooperation between the GCC member states and the United States to promote the security and stability of the region and its waterways. They affirmed their commitment to cooperate and coordinate between their countries to enhance their defense and joint deterrence capabilities against the increasing threat posed by the proliferation of unmanned aerial systems and cruise missiles, as well as against the arming of terrorist militias and armed groups, including in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions.”
“The leaders discussed various ways to enhance their joint cooperation aimed at strengthening deterrence and the defense capabilities of GCC member states, as well as enhanced integration and interoperability in their air and missile defenses and maritime security capabilities, and early warning systems and information sharing.”
“The leaders welcomed the establishment of Combined Task Force 153 and Task Force 59, which will enhance joint defense coordination between the GCC member states and the U.S. Central Command to better monitor maritime threats and improve naval defenses by utilizing the latest technologies and systems.”
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan
At a press briefing on July 12, 2022: “We’ve reunited our partners to ensure that it’s Iran, not the United States, that is isolated until it returns to the nuclear deal. And the frequency of Iranian-sponsored attacks against our forces in Iraq and Syria has dropped dramatically.”
“Our diplomacy with Saudi Arabia is now delivering results, including a truce in Yemen, a more integrated GCC, progress on energy security, and security cooperation against threats from Iran.”
“We are clear-eyed that the region remains full of challenges and threats from Iran, from terrorist groups that still operate in a number of countries; challenges in the ongoing conflict in Syria; challenges to human rights and human freedom. This is why the President believes there is no substitute for the power of face-to-face diplomacy.”
“We have not marked a date on the calendar [as a deadline for reviving the JCPOA]. We have indicated that we believe there is a deal on the table. It is a deal that we’re backing, that our European partners are backing that is available to Iran, and Iran should step forward and take that deal.
“If they don’t, we’re not standing still. Even as we speak, we’ve already introduced two rounds of sanctions to crack down on their effort to evade the existing sanctions regime. We are curbing their ability to smuggle oil, for example, through the Quds Force and other entities within Iran. And we’ll keep doing that.
“So as far as we’re concerned, Iran has a choice: It can either come back on a compliance-for-compliance basis to the JCPOA, or it will face increasing pressure from the United States and increasing isolation from the international community to include a resolution at the IAEA Board of Governors that garnered the support of more than 30 nations.”
“Our information indicates that the Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with up to several hundred UAVs, including weapons-capable UAVs, on an expedited timeline.
“Our information further indicates that Iran is preparing to train Russian forces to use these UAVs with initial training sessions slated to begin as soon as early July.
“It’s unclear whether Iran has delivered any of these UAVs to Russia already. But this is just one example of how Russia is looking to countries like Iran for capabilities that are also being used, I might add, or have been used before we got the ceasefire in place in Yemen, to attack Saudi Arabia.”