U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will hold talks with Israeli leaders during his visit to Israel as head of a U.S. delegation to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's funeral on Monday, Biden's office said, according to Reuters.
Biden's meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be a chance for the vice president to try to further Middle East peace efforts and ease Israeli concerns about nuclear talks with Iran, leading lawmakers flying with him to Tel Aviv told Reuters on Sunday.
Biden's visit comes at a time when the Obama administration, especially Secretary of State John Kerry, is struggling to broker an Israel-Palestinian Authority peace agreement and is at odds with close ally Israel over efforts by world powers to reach a final nuclear deal with Iran.
Biden will also meet President Shimon Peres during his visit, and is also due to speak at Monday's funeral for Sharon in Jerusalem and attend the former prime minister's burial service.
The Vice President has often said that he has been friends with Netanyahu, to whom he refers to by his nickname Bibi, for more than 35 years.
Traveling on Biden's plane from Washington, U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida lawmaker, made clear she saw the vice president's visit not only as a moment to pay his last respects to Sharon but a chance to tackle critical regional issues.
"Anytime that you have a leader from the United States as significant as Vice President Biden sitting down with the prime minister of Israel ... there's an opportunity for progress," Wasserman Schultz told reporters, according to Reuters, suggesting Biden's visit could build on the shuttle diplomacy that Kerry has pursued.
"And every time there is an opportunity for progress, for the United States to be in a position to help Israel in the cause of crafting and finalizing a two-state solution, we take that opportunity. This is no exception," she added.
Kerry has made numerous visits to the Middle East since taking office, in an attempt to push Israel and the PA to reach a peace agreement after a decades-long conflict. He is currently trying to convince the sides to sign a framework agreement which would, among other things, divide part of Jerusalem to the PA, while Jordan would have jurisdiction on holy sites in the Jewish capital.
Biden’s visit also comes a day after it was announced that the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers will be implemented as of January 20. A senior American official later revealed that as part of this implementation, Iran will receive the first $550 million installment of a total of $4.2 billion in previously blocked overseas funds on or about February 1.
Netanyahu has repeatedly underlined that the deal that was reached with Iran is a mistake and would allow the Islamic Republic to continue to advance towards a nuclear weapon while receiving sanctions relief.
This position has placed the Netanyahu at odds with the administration in the United States, to the point where President Barack Obama reportedly told him to “take a breather” from his criticism and shift attention to the terms of the final deal still under negotiation.