Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry defended the Obama administration’s Middle East legacy Monday night in front of a pro-Israel audience of 800 at the J Street Gala.
Last month, Biden was booed at the AIPAC Policy Conference. In contrast, the more liberal J Street crowd, meeting at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, applauded the vice president when he asserted that Israeli settlement expansion would be “counterproductive to Israel’s security. They’re moving us and they’re moving Israel in the wrong direction,” he said. “They’re moving us toward a one state reality and that reality is dangerous.”
Biden and Kerry both defended the Iran nuclear deal. Each enumerated the terms and conditions Iran agreed to as part of the agreement, such as the removal of two-thirds of its centrifuges, the shutdown of the Arak nuclear reactor and the removal of its stockpile of enriched uranium.
“We’re doing no more than we promised we’d do and no less than we promised we’d do,” Biden said. “By raising the cost of Iran’s intransigence…we significantly [reduced] the threat of Iran’s long-range missiles.”
Biden praised JStreet for backing the deal, which he said had broad support from both the American Jewish community and several Israeli security experts.
“You all stood up, and your voices were heard throughout the community and beyond,” he said. “The deal is working exactly as it should.”
Kerry’s sought to dispel the notion that Iran had received $155 billion from the United States as a result of the agreement, saying that it had received $3 billion. Kerry also emphasized that the international community gaining access to Iran’s nuclear facilities was key in preventing them from building a weapon.
“The country that was two months away from the potential of breaking out is now a year away. And we have the capacity to know what they are doing,” he said. “You recognize that diplomacy should always be exhausted before we ask our treasury to go to war, especially when a solution which is thought out and verifiable can be enforced.”
Biden and Kerry both took a moment to condemn Monday’s bus explosion in Jerusalem that injured 21 and was called a terrorist attack by the Israeli government. Kerry said the attack underscores the importance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“These outrages are intended solely to instill fear,” he said. “They will never succeed in intimidating the Israeli people.”
Biden praised JStreet leaders for their support of a two-state solution in resolving the conflict and said that is the only way for Israel to remain a Jewish and democratic state.
He went on to praise the renewed 10-year memorandum of understanding on defense matters being negotiated between the United States and Israel.
“We see to it that Israel has the best weapons, the best technologies that are available,” Biden said. “Our assistance is tailored to meet specific threats that Israel faces, and they face many.”
Biden said despite frustrations the administration has had in working with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the obligation of the United States should be to “push as hard as we can” for a two-state solution, while being a “guarantor of their security.”
“Were there no Israel, we’d have to invent one to secure our own interest in the region,” he said.