Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to travel to Washington, DC, for his first meeting with US President Donald Trump on February 15, the White House announced Monday.
“Our relationship with the only democracy in the Middle East is crucial to the security of both our nations and the president looks forward to discussing continuous strategic, technological, military and intelligence cooperation with the prime minister,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, announcing the meeting.
In a statement later Monday night, Netanyahu said he “greatly appreciates President Trump’s kind invitation to Washington and his warm words about Israel.”
“I look forward to discussing with him the areas of cooperation between us that are so vital to the security and well-being of our two countries,” Netanyahu said.
The two leaders, who spoke on the phone last week, are expected to discuss several issues, chiefly among them the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iranian nuclear agreement and ongoing aggression from Tehran.
The two agreed to meet during the phone call last week, and the face to face is expected to be a centerpiece of a so-called reset in relations between Jerusalem and Washington, following years of acrimony while former president Barack Obama was in the White House.
An hour before Monday’s announcement, Netanyahu said he would discuss “dealing” with the nuclear pact and reimposing sanctions on Iran following the launch of a ballistic missile by Tehran.
Iran over the weekend conducted a test of a nuclear-capable missile in “a blatant breach” of a United Security Council resolution, Netanyahu said in a statement posted online.
In his upcoming meeting with Trump, he will “raise the need for a renewal of sanctions against Iran — sanctions against ballistic missiles but also other sanctions, against [Iran’s sponsorship of] terrorism, and also to deal with this entire failed nuclear agreement,” he said.
“I know this issue worries not only the US and Israel but many countries in the region. We will advance this issue because Iranian aggression must not go unanswered,” he added.
Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed to talk to Trump about Iran, especially about the nuclear pact the ayatollah regime signed with six world powers in 2015, which he considers a historic mistake.
Trump has consistently criticized the agreement as well, though since taking office as president he has stopped short of expressing the intention to abrogate it.
In a phone call with Saudi King Salman earlier this week, Trump vowed merely to “rigorously enforce” the nuclear deal and to “address Iran’s destabilizing regional activities,” according to a readout provided by a readout of the call from the White House.
Another main subject in Netanyahu’s meeting with the president will be the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and particularly the charged question of whether the US will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
As a candidate, Trump repeatedly promised to speedily relocate the embassy but since moving to the White House appeared to have backtracked.
“You know it’s a very big decision, because every president for the last number of presidents, large number, they’ve come in and they were going to do it and then all of a sudden they decide they don’t want to get involved. It’s a big big decision,” he told a Christian television station in an interview aired Monday.
“I’ve always liked the concept of doing it,” he said. “I will tell you that. I’ll have a decision in the not too distant future.”
Asked if the chances were good, he replied: “Well, there’s certainly a chance of it, absolutely. But we’re doing very detailed studies on that and we’ll come out very soon. I hate to do that because that’s not usually me: studies. It’s usually, I do what’s right. But this has two sides to it. Not easy.”
Netanyahu met Trump during a trip to New York for the UN General Assembly in September. Since Trump was elected, Netanyahu has taken pains to avoid criticizing the new president, including over the US ban on travelers from seven countries.
On Saturday, Netanyahu seemingly tweeted support for Trump’s border wall with Mexico, setting off a diplomatic tiff and spurring the former US ambassador to Israel to estimate that the Israeli leader was being “squeezed” by Trump in a quid-pro-quo.
After returning from Washington, Netanyahu will have very little time to rest before heading to the other side of the world for a much anticipated visit to Singapore and Australia.
On February 19, the prime minister will leave Israel to the Southeast Asian city-state before arriving in Melbourne on February 22. After three days down under he will return on February 24, arriving in Israel before the Sabbath starts.
Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.