Ambassador Tom Nides with Prime Minister Bennett
Ambassador Tom Nides with Prime Minister Bennett Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides told the Israel Hayom newspaper, in a special interview which will be published in full on Friday, that Israel could join the US visa waiver program by 2023 if all the conditions are met.

Nides told the newspaper that while much work remains to be done, the US intends to bring Israel into the program by 2023.

The Ambassador said he is working around the clock to make sure that happens, adding that he is cooperating closely with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who he said is focused on the issue.

According to Nides, Israel must take several steps to join the program, including passing certain laws to bring it into compliance with US requirements.

Asked if Shaked's cited February 2023 target date for the US visa waiver was indeed the goal, Nides said that the process should focus on the current calendar year, but that the waiver – if granted – would be implemented in 2023. Nides called the efforts "Herculean" and said that the US was trying to make it easier for Israelis to enter its borders.

The US Ambassador said that the Knesset needed to vote on a few matters of compliance and that the legislative body was working on it. The US, Nides said, was doing its part and hundreds of people had visited Washington as part of the process.

The White House said last August, after a meeting between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that Biden emphasized "his administration would strengthen bilateral cooperation with Israel in ways that would benefit both US citizens and Israeli citizens, including by working together towards Israel’s inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program."

In March, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev signed an agreement with the United States to share information on civilians convicted of serious criminal offenses.

On the issue of Iran, Nides told Israel Hayom that the Revolutionary Guards would not be dropped from the US list of terrorist entities and said that Biden's stance on the issue was "uncompromising."

When asked if the US had a plan to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program, Nides said there was "no question" that while Washington still hoped to solve the matter through diplomacy, Biden would not "stand by" and watch the Iranians develop nuclear weapons.

Nides said the US would work very closely with Israel and its allies, and reiterated Biden's assertion that "all options are on the table."

When asked why the US did not issue explicit threats that it would use military force against Iran's nuclear program, which even former President Barack Obama did, Nides said it was not his place as Ambassador to make threats, and repeated that the US would work with Israel and its other regional allies to ensure that Iran did not obtain nuclear weapons.