Monday, January 13, 2014

In Jerusalem, Vice President Biden Dines With Prime Minister Netanyahu

The discussion at the closed-press dinner ranged from personal to policy
"May our devotion to our countries’ relationship be as strong as our friendship"...
Jerusalem, Israel -  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Vice President Joe Biden to his official residence, Beit Rosh Hamemshala, for a closed-press working dinner on Monday evening.  

Held on an outdoor patio, the intimate two-hour dinner began shortly after 8:00 PM, hours after both men spoke at the State Funeral for former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who died on Saturday at age 85.

The Prime Minister and his wife Sarah Netanyahu greet Biden
Over a menu anchored by fillet of drum fish with organic winter vegetables, the dinner discussion was wide ranging, a Senior Administration Official afterwards told reporters, swinging between crucial security issues including Iran, Syria, and the threat of terrorism to Israel, and personal subjects, because the Vice President and Netanyahu are old friends.

"Because the Prime Minister and the Vice President have such a longstanding relationship, it was intertwined with personal anecdotes, conversation about family, conversation about recent trips that each of them have taken," the Senior Official said, noting that Biden regaled Netanyu with anecdotes about his week-long trip to Asia last December.

"The Prime Minister was genuinely interested in hearing about his impressions on China, North Korea, other subjects," said the Senior Official.

"The subjects that were covered in the Vice President’s session with the Prime Minister were the peace process, Iran, the threat of jihadism across the region, the threat of terrorism to Israel from Hamas, Hezbollah, and other sources, specific regional events and their impact and import, including the situations in Iraq and Syria, Lebanon and Egypt," said the Senior Administration Official.

But "on the peace process, the Vice President wasn’t there to negotiate," the Senior Administration Official said, stressing that Secretary of State John Kerry, who recently made his tenth trip to the region, is taking the lead on the issue.

Netanyahu offered an elaborate menu, according to an aide for Biden.  The dinner opened with a cream of root vegetable and shimeji mushroom soup with white truffle oil, followed by endive salad with beets, citrus segments and seared duck breast with balsamic vinegar.  

The entree was fillet of drum fish with organic winter vegetables and herbs.  Dessert was vanilla tuile, creme patissiere and strawberries.

Biden signs the guest book with the Prime Minister and Mrs. Netanyahu
Though she did not join her husband and the Vice President for dinner, Mrs. Sarah Netanyahu greeted Biden as he arrived, and chatted with him as he signed the official guest book for the residence. 

Biden last visited Jerusalem in March 2010, and was accompanied by former National Security Adviser Jim Jones as he dined with Netanyahu and Israel's then-Defense Minister, Ehud BarakBiden noted the past dinner in his guest book inscription:

Dear Bibi and Sarah – 

I’m looking forward to finishing the dinner we started March 2010. You’re a generous and loyal friend.

Jill and I look forward to returning the hospitality.

May our devotion to our countries’ relationship be as strong as our friendship.

Joe Biden

A formal portrait after the dinner
After the Vice President and Prime Minster finished dinner, there was an expanded meeting with members of both the US and Israel delegations that lasted for two more hours, the Senior Administration Official said.  There were four members on the Israeli side and three members on the US side; they had dined together while the Vice President and Prime Minister had their private dinner. 

"The Vice President conveyed the President’s and his very strong support for what Secretary Kerry is doing, and made clear that the United States places extremely high value on reaching an agreement that produces two states living side by side in peace and security, but also underscoring just how important Israel’s security requirements are to us and that we would be looking out for those in any final agreement," the Senior Administration Official said.

"With respect to Iran, the Vice President had the opportunity to update the Prime Minister on the impending implementation of the Joint Plan of Action, to discuss our ongoing efforts to ensure that the sanctions architecture remains intact, and to talk about what a comprehensive solution would look like and elicit the Prime Minister’s views on a comprehensive solution."

Biden with the Netanyahus and Pres. Peres at the funeral service
Earlier on Monday after the funeral service for Sharon at "Givat HaKalaniot" in the Negev, the Vice President met with President Shimon Peres over an "informal lunch" at the Knesset, which Netanyahu also attended. 

It included "an informal discussion about Sharon, the founding generation, the dynamics in the region, current events and the like," said the Senior Administration Official.

Before his death, Sharon had been in a coma for eight years after suffering a stroke in 2006.

Biden departed Israel when the evening was over, flying back to Washington, DC.  He is schuduled to travel to Detroit, Michigan later this week.

*Photos from the Office of the Prime Minister