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Israeli PM says Iran will top Biden visit agenda

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid makes a statement at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 10
— Jerusalem (AFP)

Expanding joint action to counter Iran will top the agenda during US President Joe Biden's upcoming visit to Israel, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Sunday, demanding sanctions against Tehran.

The premier urged a "decisive" response to Tehran's nuclear ambitions, ahead of Biden's arrival in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

The visit "will focus first and foremost on the issue of Iran," said Lapid, addressing his second cabinet meeting since taking office on July 1.

The Israeli leader is serving as premier and foreign minister of a caretaker government until elections scheduled for November 1.

According to an International Atomic Energy Agency report that emerged over the weekend, Iran has informed the Vienna-based watchdog about enhancements in its uranium enrichment capacity.

"Yesterday, it was revealed that Iran is enriching uranium in advanced centrifuges in complete contravention of the agreements it has signed," Lapid said Sunday.

"The international response needs to be decisive: to return to the UN Security Council and activate the sanctions mechanism at full force," he added.

Israel opposes the restoration of a 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers, that offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

The US walked out of the deal in 2018 under then president Donald Trump, who proceeded to reimpose biting sanctions on Tehran.

Many in Israel cheered that development, which prompted Iran to step away from many of the nuclear commitments it made under the accord.

Negotiations seeking to restore the deal, including indirect talks with the United States, took off in Vienna in April last year, but have been at an impasse since March.

- Cooperation 'against all threats' -

Beyond Iran's nuclear programme, Israel has sounded growing alarm about Tehran's support for the Lebanese group Hezbollah, which this month sent drones towards an Israeli oil rig that Beirut claims is in disputed Mediterranean waters.

The Jewish state has also accused Iranian agents of plotting to kidnap or kill Israelis in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

"Israel will not stand idly by while Iran tries to attack us," Lapid said. "We will discuss with the president and his team expanding security cooperation against all threats."

Lapid described Biden as "one of the closest friends that Israel has ever had in American politics".

Israeli police on Sunday said 16,000 officers will be deployed for the presidential visit, with security enhanced at Tel Aviv airport and Jerusalem in particular.

Washington's policy on Jerusalem was overhauled by Trump, who recognised the city as Israel's capital.

The Palestinians view the eastern part of the city, which was captured by Israeli forces in the 1967 Six-Day War, as the capital of their future state.

Biden is yet to reverse the policy shift made by his predecessor, which saw the US ambassador relocate to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

During the president's visit he is due to meet the Palestinian leadership in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. His tour also includes a stop in Saudi Arabia, Iran's main regional rival.

The White House's National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Thursday said "greater collaboration" on issues such as air defence, particularly with regards to countering Tehran, would be on Biden's agenda during the Middle East trip.