The Jerusalem Post

Next US ambassador to Israel ‘understand­s the issues well’

- • By OMRI NAHMIAS Jerusalem Post Correspond­ent

WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden’s announceme­nt on Tuesday that he intends to appoint Thomas Nides as the country’s next ambassador to Israel was met with a wave of approval from both liberal and conservati­ve Israelis and Americans who have had previous dealings with him.

“I worked with him when he was undersecre­tary of state for Hillary Clinton,” Michael Oren, former ambassador to Washington, told The Jerusalem Post. “We’ve dealt extensivel­y with a wide range of issues: peace process, security, Gaza,” Oren continued.

“Tom is an excellent diplomat and a real statesman. He understand­s the issues. He’s passionate about Israel, understand­s it very well; he is committed to the relationsh­ip, committed to the alliance, and to Israel’s security.

“Ambassador­s do not make policy, but he will be representi­ng positions based on the two-state solution for the Palestinia­ns and the renewal of the JCPOA.”

Nides is currently the managing director and vice chairman of Morgan Stanley, working with global clients and external and government­al affairs issues. He previously served as deputy secretary of state for management and resources under Hillary Clinton from 2011 to 2013. He was also awarded the secretary of state’s Distinguis­hed Service Award in January 2013.

Nides was born to a Jewish family in Duluth, Minnesota.

He started his career on Capitol Hill in various positions, including as assistant to the House Majority whip and executive assistant to the Speaker of the House. He later spent a decade as chief of staff for several members of Congress before

pivoting to the banking sector in 1996.

Mark Mellman, the CEO of Democratic Majority for Israel, has known Nides since the 1990s.

“He has a great deal of experience with Israel-related issues,” he told the Post. “He has a great deal of experience in the State Department, in government agencies, and he understand­s Capitol Hill and every part of government.

“He’s hysterical­ly funny, he’s kind and caring. I’m not sure that it is necessary for the job, but it certainly helps.

“He has a strong relationsh­ip with the president and with the secretary of state, and that’s very important,” Mellman added.

Dan Kurtzer, who served as US ambassador to Israel, told the Post: “Tom Nides has a ton of foreign policy experience. His experience in the business world will also be a tremendous asset.

“The administra­tion has sent an important message to Israel and the region that the United States is ready to work seriously with our friends to advance our interests and the prospects for peace,” Kurtzer added.

Aaron Keyak, who served as a Biden-Harris transition official and has been in regular contact with Nides, told the Post: “He speaks with the authority of [someone with] extensive private and public sector experience .... He’s trusted by this administra­tion and speaks with the authority of the president, which might be the most important characteri­stic the ambassador has, especially dealing with leaders in a tough region,” Keyak added.

Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said that Nides “will take this role very seriously.

“He has experience in public service and at the State Department. He was known as very effective [in his position] during the Obama administra­tion. He is known as a very strong manager, and I’m sure he will be a very strong ambassa

wider disagreeme­nts.

In February, Russia and the United States extended for five years the New START treaty, which caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads they can deploy and limits the land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver them.

Both sides had said in advance of the summit that they hoped for more stable and predictabl­e relations, even though they were at odds over everything from arms control and cyber-hacking to election interferen­ce and Ukraine.

Putin and Biden shook hands on arrival before going inside, and Biden flashed a thumbs-up to reporters as he left the villa where the talks were held and got into his limousine.

The first round of talks – which included Biden, Putin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – lasted almost two hours, officials said.

Talks resumed after a break at around 4 p.m. (1400 GMT), with Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, who was recalled to Russia in March, among those present. That round ended at 5:05 p.m. (1505 GMT).

Relations between Moscow and Washington have been deteriorat­ing for years, notably with Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, its 2015 interventi­on in Syria, and US charges – denied by Moscow – of meddling in the 2016 election that brought Donald Trump to the White House.

They sank further in March when Biden said he thought Putin was a “killer,” prompting Russia to recall Antonov to Washington for consultati­ons. The United States recalled its ambassador in April.

Putin said on Wednesday that he had been satisfied by Biden’s explanatio­n of the remark.

Trump’s summit in 2018 with Putin in Helsinki had included a meeting accompanie­d only by interprete­rs, but Biden and Putin had no solo talks.

Standing beside Putin in Helsinki in 2018, Trump refused to blame him for meddling in the 2016 US election, casting doubt on the findings of his own intelligen­ce agencies and sparking a storm of domestic criticism.

spoke about the personal phone calls they made to each other when grieving the deaths of close family members in recent years.

But while Biden waited almost a month upon assuming the presidency to call Netanyahu, he rushed to call Bennett within two hours.

Of course, the circumstan­ces are different. Although Biden had a long list of internatio­nal leaders to call after his inaugurati­on – and he started slowly, indicating that domestic affairs were his priority – Netanyahu was still the first in the Middle East to get a call. When Biden called Bennett, he was busy with his first trip abroad as president, but there weren’t any other world leaders he needed to congratula­te that day.

Still, by waiting less than two hours, Biden sent a message that talking to Bennett is a priority for him, and he wanted to start their relationsh­ip on a positive note that would reverberat­e in the US-Israel relationsh­ip more broadly.

The call was less than 20 minutes long, and didn’t go too deeply into the issues.

Bennett’s readout said that he thanked Biden for his years-long commitment to Israel and its security, as well as his support for Israel during Operation Guardian of the Walls last month, and that they discussed the importance of the US-Israel relationsh­ip.

“Biden highlighte­d his decades of steadfast support for the US-Israel relationsh­ip and his unwavering commitment to Israel’s security,” the American readout stated. “He expressed his firm intent to deepen cooperatio­n between the United States and Israel on the many challenges and opportunit­ies facing the region.”

That “firm intent to deepen cooperatio­n” is a signal that the Biden administra­tion wants to give Bennett a chance, despite his stated hawkish views, which are often to the right of Netanyahu.

The White House added a couple of specific issues to its statement, as well, such as an agreement to “consult closely on all matters related to regional security, including Iran” and “efforts to advance peace, security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinia­ns.”

Those additions are important because they reflect the areas in which the Biden administra­tion will be watching Bennett.

First, there’s Iran.

NETANYAHU VERBALLY sparred with Biden in his last speech on Sunday evening: “The administra­tion

in Washington asked me not to discuss our disagreeme­nt on Iran publicly, but, with all due respect, I can’t do that,” Netanyahu said, and then proceeded to compare the US returning to the Iran deal to former US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declining to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz when he had the chance.

It’s not a huge logical leap from Netanyahu’s many past comments – that criticize the Iran deal as appeasemen­t and point out that the Islamic Republic has called for genocide against Israelis – to explicitly saying that supporting the Iran deal is like appeasing Nazis.

The remarks were reminiscen­t of former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s 2001 response to ex-President George Bush’s pressure on Israel on the Palestinia­n issue; Sharon said that Israel “will not be Czechoslov­akia,” part of which Western Europe ceded to Hitler in 1938 in an attempt to appease him.

Understand­ably, US presidents do not take well to the comparison.

Bennett took a tone that was similar to Netanyahu’s in recent months, prior to Sunday, in his remarks to the Knesset: “Returning to the Iran deal is a mistake that will once again give legitimacy to one of the most violent, dark regimes in the world. Israel will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. Israel is not a party to the deal, and will maintain total freedom of action.”

Biden reassured Bennett that the US will continue to keep Israel apprised of matters relating to Iran – that includes the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna – but the question remains as to whether Bennett will agree “not to discuss our disagreeme­nt on Iran publicly” as Netanyahu said the Biden administra­tion had asked.

WHEN IT comes to the Palestinia­ns, the Biden readout was careful in mentioning “efforts to advance peace, security and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinia­ns.”

Bennett does not oppose peace, security and prosperity. Prosperity is, in fact, key to his view on how to “shrink the conflict,” as he said recently. The new prime minister is in favor of improving Palestinia­ns’ quality of life through economic cooperatio­n, in order to disincenti­vize them from violence against Israel and foster coexistenc­e.

What’s not mentioned in the Biden readout is a two-state solution, which the president

staunchly supports and Bennett has long opposed. Settlement­s, which Biden firmly opposes and Bennett would like to annex, did not come up either.

Both Bennett and Biden realize that the chance of a breakthrou­gh on the Palestinia­n front is almost zero. Bennett’s “shrink the conflict” comments imply as much, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said so in recent months as well. And when it comes to settlement­s, Bennett’s coalition, which spans from Right to Left, boxes him in and doesn’t allow him to do very much.

Biden is focusing on the areas where they agree, and which are also the most practical.

The two leaders will likely proceed cautiously with each other in the coming weeks. If their call indicates anything, it’s that they want to give the new government in Jerusalem a chance to have good relations with the administra­tion in Washington. •

 ??  ?? THOMAS NIDES (Lee Jin-man/Reuters)
THOMAS NIDES (Lee Jin-man/Reuters)

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