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Biden talks tough on Iran in clearest break with Obama-era policy

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U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday vowed to “hold Iran accountable” for its alliance with Russia and its support of anti-Israeli militants such as Hamas, appearing to draw a line under efforts to engage Tehran.

The president has frequently drawn fire for his Iran policy, which continues some of the attempts at rapprochement started by the administration of former President Barack Obama, in which Biden served as vice president.

Biden tried to lure Iran back into an Obama-era nuclear nonproliferation deal scuppered by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, and even released funds from a sanctions-bound bank account in a deal to free Americans prisoners.

Biden’s Iran policy, always controversial, became untenable after militants from Hamas—which has reportedly been funded and armed by Iran—slaughtered 1,400 people in Israel on October 7 in the worst Palestinian attack ever on the Jewish state.

Biden used perhaps his toughest language yet on Iran during a Thursday night address to the nation, tying Tehran to the Hamas attack as well as the 20-month-old war in Ukraine waged by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Split image of Biden and Ali Khamenei
U.S. President Joe Biden, left, on Thursday addresses the nation from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. On the right, Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, is pictured on April 22, 2023, in Tehran. During Biden’s address, he said the United States would hold Iran “accountable” for supporting Russia and anti-Israel militants.
Photos by Jonathan Ernst Sadegh Nikgostar/ATPImages/Getty Images

“Iran is supporting Russia in Ukraine, and it’s supporting Hamas and other terrorist groups in the region. And we’ll continue to hold them accountable, I might add,” he said.

Hours before Biden spoke, the U.S. Navy shot down missiles and drones from Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. A Pentagon spokesperson said Israel was potentially the target of the thwarted attack.

During the final weeks of his presidential campaign in 2020, Biden wrote an opinion article for CNN.com. In it, he criticized Trump’s Iran policy as a “dangerous failure” while touting the work done under Obama.

The op-ed also offered Tehran “a credible path back to diplomacy” if the nation’s leaders agreed to comply with a strict nuclear deal.

“If Iran chooses confrontation, I am prepared to defend our vital interests and our troops,” Biden wrote. “But, I am ready to walk the path of diplomacy if Iran takes steps to show it is ready too.”

Newsweek reached out to the White House via email for comment late Thursday night.

Iran had already been scrutinized for its ties to anti-Israel militants before the Red Sea incident on Thursday. U.S. and Israeli officials have not identified any clear connection between Tehran and the October 7 attack, and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has dismissed reports of Tehran’s involvement. However, Iran has long been accused of providing Hamas with military and financial support.

Exactly a week after the Hamas attack on Israel, Iran made a symbolic show of solidarity when Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian met with Ismail Haniyeh, a leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, in Doha, Qatar.

The Iranian official was captured on video by the Iranian-state media outlet Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) hugging and kissing Haniyeh during the meeting.

Iran has also been one Putin’s closest allies throughout his war on Ukraine, supplying Russia’s armed forces with combat drones. This summer, the White House said U.S. intelligence had found Iran had provided Russia with materials needed to build a drone manufacturing plant near Moscow.

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