United States Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides reiterated Wednesday that America will “not tie Israel’s hands to defend itself against Iranian aggression.”
Speaking to the Foreign Press Association, he defended U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to try to achieve a “diplomatic solution to this conflict.” Though he stressed that the U.S. will only renew a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) if it was under the terms that the Biden administration has laid out.
“We will not stand by to let the Iranians obtain a nuclear weapon,” he said.
The U.S. and Iran in Vienna have been negotiating intensely for months, but have yet to achieve a deal. European Union chief diplomat Josep Borrell said Monday that he was losing confidence in negotiating a deal.
“If the process does not converge, then the whole process is in danger,” Borrell said in a statement. “I am sorry to say that I am less confident [about] … the prospect of closing the deal.”
On Tuesday, reports were circulating in the press that the U.S. had told Israel the Iran deal was off the table, although Nides did not address that in his remarks.
The E.U. submitted a draft of what they hoped would be a final deal last month. Since then, both Iran and the United States have responded to the text but disagree over some of its details.
Israeli officials have openly and aggressively expressed opposition to the deal, stating that they believe it sets up the Iranian regime for rapidly completing the development of a nuclear weapon.
NIDES’ NORTH STAR
Nides, a Reform Jew, also highlighted what he called his “North Star” for his role as ambassador to Israel: “To maintain Israel as a democratic and Jewish state,” ideally through the achievement of a two-state solution.
“I have no illusion that I will be getting the Nobel Peace Prize anytime soon,” he joked. “But I think it is important to articulate it.”
He said that “Joe Biden believes and I believe that in the midst of trying to cajole and push toward a two-state solution, we need to be doing things for the Palestinian people at the same time.”
He stressed the Biden administration’s opposition to settlement expansion, the Palestinian’s pay-for-slay policy and settler violence.
“Many things go on here that make it more and more difficult to get a two-state solution,” he said.
Nides added that the Biden administration celebrates the Abraham Accords, which were signed two years ago between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco two years ago and brought normalization between these countries and the Jewish state.
However, he bemoaned, “not everyone has benefited equally” from the accords.
‘RULES OF ENGAGEMENT’
The ambassador started tearing up when talking about the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who the Israeli army admitted this week was likely shot and killed by one of its own soldiers during clashes in Jenin in May.
The Israel Defense Forces released a statement earlier this week saying “there is a high possibility that Ms. Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire.”
“My wife is a journalist. I know a lot of war correspondents and we have been very focused on this issue,” Nides said, with tears in his eyes, calling Abu Akleh's death “the single most emotional” event he has been through since his time in the country. Abu Akleh – a Palestinian Christian – was also an American citizen.
Nides told reporters that the U.S. will push for stronger protection of the press so that reporters can do their jobs without fear.
“That is our principle and something we care deeply about,” he said, adding that Washington has articulated to Israel “the importance of the rules of engagement.”
Maayan Hoffman is a veteran American-Israeli journalist and strategic communications consultant. She is Deputy CEO - Strategy & Innovation for the Jerusalem Post, where she also served as news editor, head of strategy and senior health analyst.