Israel, Bahrain leaders discuss Iran, possible vaccine plant


FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to Leumit Health Care Services vaccination facility in Jerusalem where he meets the 4,000,000 person who had been vaccinated in Israel, February 16, 2021. Alex Kolomoisky/Pool via REUTERS

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahrain's Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa on Thursday discussed Iran and the possible involvement of the Gulf state in establishing a vaccine plant in Israel, the two countries said.

Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates formalised ties with Israel on Sept. 15 in part over shared concerns about Iran, in a deal forged by former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, a move praised by Israel which has objected to the accord. His successor, President Joe Biden, wants to rejoin the deal.

But in the week since Washington offered to talk with Tehran about reviving the nuclear deal, Iran has curbed U.N. monitoring and threatened to boost its uranium enrichment. Tehran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons.

An Israeli official said on Tuesday that Israel hopes to prevent personal tension between Netanyahu, who is seeking re-election on March 23, and Biden over their differences on Iran policy by delegating talks on the topic to their senior staff.

Netanyahu and Khalifa both released statements about their telephone call on Thursday but only the Bahraini announcement mentioned Iran.

Their conversation stressed the importance for the "countries of the region to take part in any talks about Iran's nuclear file," the kingdom's state media office said on Twitter.

Netanyahu's office said he spoke with Khalifa about visiting Bahrain once coronavirus restrictions would allow it.

"The Bahraini regent also stated that he was interested in examining the possibility of Bahrain joining an investment in a vaccine manufacturing plant that is planned to be established in Israel together with other countries," the statement said.

Netanyahu said on Wednesday he was in talks with the heads of Pfizer and Moderna to open facilities in Israel. Neither company responded to Reuters requests for comment.

Israel has been importing Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Inc COVID-19 vaccines.

Israel expects trade with Bahrain to be around $220 million in 2021, not including possible defence and tourism deals.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Maher Chmaytelli in Dubai; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Hugh Lawson)

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