LONDON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday called for new international sanctions against Iran during his first meeting with British counterpart Theresa May in London.
Speaking at a short photo op before the two met behind closed doors, May was mostly silent on Iran, but affirmed to Netanyahu her country’s commitment to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu had flown to the UK with the intention of pushing for a united US-UK-Israeli front against Tehran following new ballistic missile tests by Iran, and said all “responsible nations” should back new sanctions, essentially rolling back the nuclear agreement.
“Iran seeks to annihilate Israel. It says so openly. It seeks to conquer the Middle East. It threatens Europe; it threatens the West; it threatens the world,” he said.
“I welcome President Trump’s insistence on new sanctions against Iran. I think other nations should follow suit, certainly responsible nations,” he said, accusing Iran of “provocation after provocation.”
“I’d like to talk to you on how we can ensure that Iran’s aggression does not go unanswered,” he said to May.
May said only that Iran and Syria would be among the topics the two spoke about, and focused on reaching Israeli-Palestinian peace instead.
“We remain committed to the two state solution as the best way to bring peace for the future,” she said.
May also noted the centennial of the Balfour Declaration, in which the UK foreign ministry laid the groundwork for the dismantlement of the British Mandate in Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish state there. Palestinians have recently focused on the 1917 declaration as a lodestone for claims against Israel.
A spokeswoman for May said the two leaders would “talk about a range of security and international issues, including the Middle East peace process.”
She said May would raise Britain’s concern about how the “continued increase of settlements activity undermines trust.”
Netanyahu, who has drastically ramped up settlement building in the last several weeks since US President Donald Trump took office, said that while there were “challenges,” Israel would “never give up on [its] dreams for peace” with the Palestinians.
“I want to assure you that we share with you the desire for peace and this is our dream from day one,” he said.
He also mentioned the fact that he has a picture of wartime British prime minister Winston Churchill behind his desk in Jerusalem, next to that of Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl.
Before boarding his plane to London Sunday, Netanyahu told reporters he would try to forge a united front against Iran with the US and UK, both of which signed the nuclear accord.
Iran, which earlier this month tested ballistic missiles in defiance of a UN Security Council resolution, is “trying to test the boundaries with extraordinary aggression, gall and defiance,” Netanyahu said. “I think that the most important thing at the moment is that countries like the US, which will take the lead, Israel and the UK line up together against Iran’s aggression and set clear limits to it.”
“There’s a new administration in Washington, a new government in Britain. I intend to speak with both of them on strengthening ties, both between each one and Israel, and trilaterally,” he said. “That’s what I will do next week in Washington, and that’s what I’m doing tomorrow in London.”
Trump, echoing Netanyahu, has harshly criticized the nuclear deal Iran struck with six world powers in 2015, and last week threatened the regime over its illicit missile tests.
Tehran was “playing with fire,” the US president said, vowing to react to Iranian saber-rattling more aggressively than did his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Later on in the day, Netanyahu is slated to meet British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson in London before returning to Israel. He is scheduled for his first summit with Trump in Washington on February 15.
The UK, which is currently in the process of leaving the European Union, is seeking to forge new international alliances, most notably with the US. But London has in recent weeks also courted Jerusalem and has taken a pro-Israel line by refusing to sign the closing document at the Paris conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in January.
However, as opposed to Israel and the US, the UK has full diplomatic relations with Iran, including a functioning embassy in Tehran. The Foreign Office has so far remained mum over Iran’s ballistic missiles test launches.
On the other hand, May — who served for five years as home secretary tasked with keeping Britain safe from terrorism before becoming prime minister last year — has vowed to “do more against Iran’s troubling regional policies, which are fermenting instability and violence among British allies in the Gulf,” according to a briefing prepared by the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, an independent British think tank analyzing UK-Israel relations.
AFP contributed to this report.