READ – Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid Before Their Meeting

Westin Excelsior, Rome, Italy

FOREIGN MINISTER LAPID:  Hello, everybody. Secretary Blinken and I represent new administrations, yours a few months old, ours a few weeks old, and two days. But we also represent a very long and strong tradition of close friendship and cooperation. There is no relationship more important to Israel than the United States of America. There is no loyal friend of the United States of America than Israel.

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In the past few years, mistakes were made. Israel’s bipartisan standing was hurt. We will fix those mistakes together. In the past few days I spoke with a series of American leaders, both Democrats and Republicans. I reminded them all that we share America’s most basic values – freedom, democracy, free markets, the constant search for peace. In the struggle for those values, Secretary Blinken is a great partner and a great friend. Like me, he grew up in the home of a Holocaust survivor who always said that the world has a responsibility to ensure Israel’s peace and security. Mr. Secretary, I know we can count on you.

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We will have disagreements, but they are not about the essence, they’re all about how to get there. We want the same things. We sometimes disagree about how to achieve them. Israel has some serious reservations about the Iran nuclear deal that is being put together in Vienna. We believe the way to discuss those disagreements is through direct and professional conversation, not in press conferences.

Mr. Secretary, this is also the time to thank the United States for its support of Israel’s normalization efforts in the region. In a couple of days, I will make the first trip, official trip by an Israeli minister to the United Arab Emirates. That visit will be historic and I hope it will be the first of many. I look forward to working with you to widen the circle of peace in our region. That is the best way to bring stability and prosperity to the Middle East. We will discuss a range of issues which concerns Israel, including strengthening our ability to defend ourselves, working to minimize conflict between us and the Palestinians, while making life better for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Before I finish, I’d like to take this opportunity, and I know, Mr. Secretary, that you will join me, to send our prayers to all those affected by the collapse of the building in Miami. Our deepest condolences to the family of those killed in this terrible, terrible tragedy. 

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Thank you very much.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Foreign Minister Yair, thank you. We had an opportunity to meet actually before the change of government, when I was in Israel a few weeks ago. We’ve been on the phone a number of times since. But I’m very glad, first of all, to see you and to see you in these new functions. And you’re right, we’re both relatively new to the job. I suspect you’ll find – you’ve already found quickly – that the inbox fills up very fast. But I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with you, to work with your team.

And the foreign minister is exactly right: Even though our administration is relatively new and his is extremely new, the foundation that we’re working on is one of an enduring partnership, relationship, friendship between the United States and Israel, and it is based, as the foreign minister said, on a set of shared values and shared interests. And I very much look forward to working closely with you, with your team, across a whole series of issues. 

We have a number of things that the foreign minister has already noted that will be on our agenda. We have, of course, the situation in Gaza where there’s an urgent need both for humanitarian assistance and, more broadly, reconstruction. I know we’ll talk about that. The work, I hope, can be done to, as you say, offer a more hopeful future for everyone – Palestinians and Israelis alike – with equal measures of opportunity and dignity. It is very important from our perspective.

You rightly noted our strong support for the normalization agreements, the Abraham Accords with Israel’s neighbors and beyond. We strongly support this and hopefully there’ll be other participants. I think we’ve also discovered or perhaps rediscovered that as important as they are, as vital as they are, they are not a substitute for engaging on the issues between Israelis and Palestinians that need to be resolved.

Beyond that, we have many, many things to talk about when it comes to the region and beyond, including Iran. I very much look forward to that. 

But let me finish where we both started, and you said it extremely well: We’re – as the closest of friends do, we will have occasional differences. We have the same objectives; sometimes we differ on the tactics. And we, I think, are very clear and direct with each other when that’s the case. And that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be. But the foundation is a commitment, a deep, enduring, abiding commitment on the part of the United States to Israel’s security and a commitment that President Biden brought with him to office and feels very, very strongly about. 

So thank you for being here, for taking the time to get here. It’s great to see you face to face, and we can get down to work. Thank you.

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