Tel Aviv/Washington: US President Joe Biden made a long-awaited first phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday after a delay that had seen Washington deny it was snubbing Israel’s leader.
There had been speculation that the Democratic president was signaling displeasure over Netanyahu’s close ties with former President Donald Trump, who called the right-wing leader two days after his inauguration in 2017.
Biden has spoken with about a dozen other world leaders since taking office on January 20. The White House had said that Netanyahu, who differs with Biden on some Middle East issues such as Iran, would be the first regional leader he would call.
The delay in the traditional courtesy call was also widely regarded by analysts as a sign that Biden did not want to be seen boosting Netanyahu ahead of Israel’s March 23 elections.
Some said it could foreshadow chillier relations if Netanyahu wins re-election, but there were no immediate signs of tensions in relatively bland accounts of the call released by the two governments.
“It was a good conversation,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office where he was meeting US labor leaders.
Biden and Netanyahu spoke for about an hour on issues including the “Iranian threat” and Israel’s normalised relations with Arab and Muslim countries, Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. “The two leaders noted their longstanding personal connection,” it added.
The White House said they discussed, among other issues, the need for “continued close consultation” on Iran.
Biden told Netanyahu he intends to strengthen defense cooperation with Israel and stressed his support for normalisation of relations with its neighbours. He also “underscored the importance” of working toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the statement said.