Prime Minister's Residence, Jerusalem
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Vice President Biden, Joe, welcome to Israel and welcome to Jerusalem. We've been personal friends for almost three decades. Can you believe it has been that long?
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: No. You're getting older, Bibi, I don't know how.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: But you remain younger all the time. (Laughter.) And in all that time, you've been a real friend to me, and a real friend to Israel and to the Jewish people. And you've come to Israel many times since you came here first on the eve of the Yom Kippur. But now, you're coming as the Vice President of the United States of America. And this is deeply appreciated and, for me, deeply moving.
President Obama has said in Cairo, and he has repeated this many times since, that the bonds between Israel and the United States are unbreakable. And he has shown that in the last year in things that are known to the public and some things that are not known to the public. In pursuing, for example, the joint military exercises for military defense between the Israeli army and the American military; in securing Israel's qualitative military edge; and in many other activities along the world's scene, including the battle against the infamous Goldstone report. I think that the bonds -- exactly as President Obama has said, the bonds are unbreakable. And your visit demonstrates how strong they are.
I think this unbreakable bond will help our two countries meet the two historic challenges that we face today in the Middle East. The first and foremost among them is the need to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and the second is the need to advance a secure peace between Israel and our Palestinian and other Arab neighbors.
I very much appreciate the efforts of President Obama and the American government to lead the international community to place tough sanctions on Iran. The stronger those sanctions are, the more likely it will be that the Iranian regime will have to choose between advancing its nuclear program and advancing the future of its own permanence. I think that the international community and the leading countries in the international community have to join the American effort. And Israel has been helping out with key countries and continues to do so.
I also appreciate the administration's effort to advance peace in the region. I know that this has been difficult and has required a great deal of patience. But I'm pleased that these efforts are beginning to bear fruit. And we have to be persistent and purposeful in making sure that we get to those direct negotiations that will enable us to resolve this conflict.
I look forward to working with President Obama, and with you and your entire administration, to forge a historic peace agreement in which the permanence and legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel is recognized by our Palestinian neighbors, and in which Israel's security is guaranteed for generations to come.
Again, Vice President -- my friend, Joe, it's a pleasure to welcome you to Jerusalem. Welcome.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you very much. Mr. Prime Minister, it's a pleasure to be back. It's been too long between visits here. And it is true that you and I have been friends a long, long time. And as a matter of fact, when each of us were in the minority, we'd -- occasionally, I'd find -- get a phone call at home and I'd call you as well to get a sense of what's going on. Our friendship is real, but it is -- what's even deeper is the relationship between the United States and Israel.
But Prime Minister, I'm sure you'd agree we've had a -- we had a very productive discussion spanning a wide range of issues that affect both our nations. The relationship between Israel and the United States has been, and will continue to be, a centerpiece -- a centerpiece of American policy. And it's been that way since Israel's founding in 1948. And, quite frankly, it was a major focus of my work for all those years as a United States Senator and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Our two countries are bound by historic and cultural ties, and so many shared interests, that it would take too long to enumerate, and also by a wide range of deep-seated personal relationships and friendships that span the time even before 1948. Our ties have been strengthened by our deep cooperation in many fields including science and economic development, and a range of other policy areas as well.
But the cornerstone of the relationship -- the cornerstone of the relationship is our absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel's security. Bibi, you heard me say before, progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the United States and Israel. There is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel's security. And for that reason, and many others, addressing Iran's nuclear program has been of -- one of our administration's priorities.
We're determined -- we're determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And we're working with many countries around the world to convince Tehran to meet its international obligations and cease and desist. Iran must also curb its other destabilizing actions in the region, well beyond their desire to acquire nuclear weapons. And that is their continued support for terrorist groups that threaten Israel, and I might add, our interests as well.
President Obama and I strongly believe that the best long-term guarantee for Israel's security is a comprehensive Middle East peace with the Palestinians, with the Syrians, with Lebanon and leading eventually to full and normalized relationships with the entire Arab world. It's overwhelmingly in the interest of Israel, but it's also overwhelmingly of interest to the Arab world. And it's in our interest, as well.
And so, Mr. Prime Minister, toward that end I am very pleased that -- that you and the Palestinian leadership have agreed to launch indirect talks. We hope that these talks will lead, and they must lead, eventually to negotiations and direct discussions between the parties. The goal is, obviously, to resolve the final status issues and to achieve a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security. And historic peace is going to require both parties to make some historically bold commitments. You have done it before, and I'm confident for real peace you would do it again.
Over the last year, Mr. Prime Minister, you have taken significant steps including the moratorium that has limited new settlement construction activity. And you have significantly increased freedom of movement across the West Bank. Palestinian leaders are beginning to make progress on their determined willingness to -- especially in their efforts to reform their institutions of government and with their security force -- their security forces becoming much more reliable.
It's easy to point fingers, particularly in this part of the world, at what each side has not done. But it's also important to give credit where things have been done in order to be able to move forward. Mr. Prime Minister, the United States will always stand with those who take risks for peace. And you're prepared to do that. And I am hopeful. And I'll be having discussions with Palestinian leaders. It is my hope and expectation that they will be prepared, as well.
The proximity start -- talks are just that, a start. They're not designed to finish the process. And so, Mr. Prime Minister, I thank you for all the time you have given me. And it's just, quite frankly, good to be back in your company and see you again.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you. Thank you, Joe. I have one thing to offer you right now, and it's broken glass. (Laughter.) So what I'm going to do is I'm going to sign -- but I need a pen. Thank you.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Don't cut yourself.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Now, this is a significant piece of paper. I will say that agreements are dependent on the arrangements not on paper but on the ground. Here is a piece of paper that reflects an arrangement on the ground. We have planted a circle of trees in Jerusalem in memory of your mother, Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden, because you have said many times that she was a source of immeasurable strength, which I recognize in you, Joe. So we planted a tree to serve as a tribute -- a circle of trees next to the leaders of the nations. We have a forest of the leaders of the nations, and right next to it are the trees that we have planted in memory of your mother as a tribute to her immeasurable strength. And I want to offer it to you on your visit to Israel.
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, thank you very much. If you don't mind my saying, Mr. Prime Minister, my love for your country was watered by this Irish lady, who was proudest of me when I was working with and for the security of Israel. So that's a great honor. Thank you very much.