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Biden to continue another day of meetings in Israel

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden is in Jerusalem meeting with Israeli leaders today, where they have reiterated their vows to stop Iran from ever making a nuclear weapon. The president also answered questions about why he's going from Israel to Saudi Arabia tomorrow, despite his past criticism of the kingdom's human rights abuses and their war in Yemen. Here's part of that.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I want to make clear that we can continue to lead in the region and not create a vacuum, a vacuum that is filled by China and/or Russia.

MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from Jerusalem, where he is following all of this. Hey, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So let's start with the president's trip to Saudi Arabia. He's getting a lot of questions about that. I mean, the president's on the record calling Saudi Arabia a pariah when he was a candidate for president. How did he explain his relationship, his trip today?

ESTRIN: You know, he really struck a defensive tone. He said his views on Khashoggi have been made absolutely, positively clear. The Biden administration, of course, released an intelligence report saying the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, approved of the operation that ended up killing Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident.

MARTIN: We should just say, Jamal Khashoggi - yes, Saudi dissident, also an opinion writer for The Washington Post.

ESTRIN: That's right. And Biden is going to be meeting the crown prince in Saudi Arabia tomorrow, but he didn't make clear whether he would raise the issue of Jamal Khashoggi with the crown prince. Here's what he did say.

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BIDEN: I always bring up human rights, 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.

ESTRIN: He said he's going to Saudi Arabia to promote broader U.S. interests. He is pushing the Saudis to help with oil production to bring down gas prices. He wants Saudi Arabia also to pressure Russia to help end the war in Ukraine.

MARTIN: So we heard in that clip earlier that the president believes that if there's a vacuum in geopolitics, China and Russia are going to fill it, so thus reaching out with other allies. Let's talk about what the Israelis and President Biden have agreed to when it comes to Iran.

ESTRIN: Right. Well, they're making an attempt to get on the same page. They signed a statement where the U.S. is, quote, "prepared to use all elements of its national power to ensure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon." You have to listen to the nuances, though, to hear how Israel and the U.S. are emphasizing this because Biden says he prefers diplomacy. He did tell an Israeli reporter in an interview that the U.S. would use force as a last resort. Now, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid emphasized force. Here's what he said.

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PRIME MINISTER YAIR LAPID: If they continue to develop their nuclear program, the free world will use force. The only way to stop them is to put a credible military threat on the table.

ESTRIN: So you hear that nuance in the positions. Now, the Biden administration is still working on reviving the Iran nuclear deal to lift sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iran limiting its nuclear program. Iran, of course, says it's not trying to build a weapon. Israel says they are.

ESTRIN: Did they talk about the Israeli occupation and the conflict with the Palestinians?

ESTRIN: Yes. Well, first, Biden opened his remarks, mentioning that he was in Israel's capital, Jerusalem. And that is him endorsing former President Trump's policy change, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, even though Palestinians also have ties there. Both Biden and Lapid mentioned Palestinians, but again with different emphasis. Biden said he believes in creating a Palestinian state in some of the territories Israel controls now so that Israel stays a Jewish and democratic state. Lapid said that's his personal position, as well. But he's a caretaker prime minister. This is not a consensus position in Israel.

MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting from Jerusalem. Daniel, thank you. We appreciate it.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.