US could use military force against Tehran "as a last resort", President Joe Biden tells an Israeli news channel as he receives a red-carpet welcome at Tel Aviv airport.

US and Israeli leaders are expected to unveil a joint declaration cementing their close military ties.
US and Israeli leaders are expected to unveil a joint declaration cementing their close military ties. (Reuters)

President Joe Biden has opened his first visit to the Mideast since taking office by offering anxious Israeli leaders strong reassurances of his determination to stop Iran's growing nuclear programme, saying he would be willing to use force "as a last resort."

The president's comments came in an interview with Israel's Channel 12 taped before he left Washington and broadcast on Wednesday, hours after the country's political leaders welcomed him with a red-carpet arrival ceremony at the Tel Aviv airport.

"The only thing worse than the Iran that exists now is an Iran with nuclear weapons," Biden said. Asked about using military force against Iran, Biden said, "If that was the last resort, yes."

US ally Israel considers Iran to be its greatest enemy, citing its nuclear programme, though Tel Aviv is believed to possess nearly 100 nuclear warheads.

The US and Israel are expected on Thursday to unveil a joint declaration cementing their close military ties and strengthening past calls to take military action to halt Iran's nuclear programme.

READ MORE: What to expect from Biden’s inaugural Middle East trip

Iran nuclear programme

Israeli leaders made clear as they marked Biden’s arrival that Iran's nuclear programme was the top item on their agenda.

"We will discuss the need to renew a strong global coalition that will stop the Iranian nuclear programme," said Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, as he greeted the Democratic president at the airport ceremony in Tel Aviv.

Iran announced last week that it has enriched uranium to 60 percent purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade quality.

Iran insists its programme is for peaceful purposes, though United Nations experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organised military nuclear programme through 2003.

Biden's visit to Israel follows the collapse of a coalition-led government headed by Naftali Bennett. The president was greeted by Lapid, the caretaker prime minister who is hoping to hang on to power when Israelis hold their fifth election in three years this fall.

Biden made reviving the Iran nuclear deal, brokered by Barack Obama in 2015 and abandoned by Donald Trump in 2018, a key priority as he entered office.

But indirect talks for the US to reenter the deal have stalled as under-sanctions Iran has made rapid gains in developing its nuclear programme. 

READ MORE: Israel's regional ties, Iran in focus as Biden starts Middle East tour

Other key topics

Biden said he will emphasise in talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders his continued support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but acknowledged that outcome likely wouldn't be feasible "in the near term."

He maintained that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure a "future of equal measure of freedom, prosperity and democracy for Israelis and Palestinians alike." 

His national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Biden would not offer any proposals during the trip aimed at restarting talks.

READ MORE: Biden to meet Saudi king, crown prince in Mideast visit

Source: AP