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In Israel, Biden pressed on upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia: "I always bring up human rights"

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Biden vows to stand with Israel against Iran nuclear program 01:38

President Biden on Thursday said he "always brings up human rights" as he prepares to head to Saudi Arabia this week. Mr. Biden made the remarks in a joint news conference in Jerusalem alongside Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, on his first trip to the Middle East as president. 

Mr. Biden is in Israel before heading to the West Bank and then to Saudi Arabia for a summit of leaders in the Middle East. Key focuses during his visit include energy security and strengthening ties in the Middle East, even as the president is set to hold a bilateral meeting with the Saudis after U.S. intelligence has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud approved the operation to "capture or kill" critic and journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. On the 2020 presidential campaign trail, Mr. Biden said he and his administration would turn the Saudi kingdom, a longtime partner due to U.S. interests, into a global "pariah." 

Asked how he'll handle the killing of Khashoggi, Mr. Biden said Thursday he'll be meeting with many leaders other than just the Saudis during a summit in Saudi Arabia, but he "always brings up human rights." The president did not specifically commit to bringing up Khashoggi in discussions with the Saudis. 

"I always bring up human rights. I always bring up human rights," the president said. "But my position on Khashoggi has been so clear, if anyone doesn't understand it in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, then they haven't been around for a while."

Lapid, in his opening remarks, said Mr. Biden's visit to Saudi Arabia is important to Israel and the entire region, and said Israel sends a message of peace to the Palestinians. 

"Israel wants peace and believes in peace," Lapid said. "We will never yield an inch of our security. We are obligated to be cautious at every step, but to any country, any nation, that wants peace and normalization with us, we say ... shalom. Welcome."

Mr. Biden expressed a "deep love and respect" for Israel that has only grown through the years. This is his 10th visit to the country. The president recalled how 50 years ago when he visited, the prime minister at the time told him not to worry, because Israel has a secret weapon — they have nowhere else to go.

"The threats then were real and the threats to Israel remain real today," Mr. Biden said.

Both leaders expressed their continued support of Ukraine, and commitment to keeping nuclear weapons out of Iran. A declaration signed between Mr. Biden and Lapid ahead of the news conference states their intent to never allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, reaffirms Mr. Biden's support of a two-state solution, and includes Israel's thanks to the U.S. for the Abraham Accords, among other things. 

"That's what this visit is about — affirming those ties that stretch back to just 11 minutes, 11 minutes after Israel declared statehood, when the United States became the first country in the world to recognize Israel," Mr. Biden said Thursday. "And I assure you, we'll be the last country in the world ever to walk away from Israel." 

White House officials have said the point of the Israel stop to is to reaffirm and reinforce the strong ties between that country and the U.S., particularly given global turbulence and challenges in the climate, energy and nuclear spaces. Upon arrival in Israel on Wednesday, the president visited Yad Vashem, the memorial to Holocaust victims in World War II, and received a briefing on Israel's Iron Dome and Iron Beam air defense systems. 

President Biden hopes to renew Iran nuclear talks during Middle East trip 08:24

After the press conference Thursday, Mr. Biden will meet separately with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Later Thursday, he'll give a pep talk at the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Games for Jewish athletes from around the world. 

On Friday, the president is expected to speak at the Augusta Victoria Hospital regarding the East Jerusalem Hospital Network and meet with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. 

This week, Mr. Biden will become the first U.S. president to fly directly from Israel to Saudi Arabia, a nod toward the normalization of relations. Mr. Biden plans to meet with the Saudi king and Saudi crown prince while he's there for the Gulf Cooperation Council summit. 

US President Biden Arrives In Israel
U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid during an arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport on July 13, 2022 in Lod, Israel. Biden will spend two days in Israel, his first visit here as president, before traveling to Saudi Arabia. Amir Levy / Getty Images

Mr. Biden is expected to bring up Iran extensively in his conversations with leaders in the region, as the U.S. and allies seek to halt Iran's nuclear ambitions. The president said in an in an interview with an Israeli TV station before leaving on his trip that he would use force against Iran as a "last resort," when asked about measures he would take to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons program. The president called it a "gigantic mistake" for former President Trump to back out of the deal. 

"Because the only thing worse than the Iran that exists now is Iran with nuclear weapons," Mr. Biden said in the interview. "And if we can return to the deal and hold on 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 police force is gonna stop, is gonna 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 out at the table. We've made the deal. We've offered it and it's up to Iran now."

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