'This will be the first of many productive meetings,' president predicts

Full transcript: Trump, Netanyahu talk of regional approach to peace at White House press conference

President says he thinks an Israeli-Palestinian deal will be made, and vows he’ll prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon. PM says he won’t allow a Palestinian terrorist state, calls Trump greatest supporter of the Jewish people

US President Donald Trump hosted Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on February 15, 2017. Here is a transcript of their remarks at a press conference.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Today, I have the honor of welcoming my friend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to the White House. With his visit, the United States again reaffirms our unbreakable bond with our cherished ally, Israel.

The partnership between our two countries, built on our shared values, has advanced the cause of human freedom, dignity and peace. These are the building blocks of democracy. The state of Israel is a symbol to the world of resilience in the face of oppression — I can think of no other state that’s gone through what they’ve gone [through] — and of survival in the face of genocide. We will never forget what the Jewish people have endured.

Your perseverance in the face of hostility, your open democracy in the face of violence, and your success in the face of tall odds is truly inspirational. The security challenges faced by Israel are enormous, including the threat of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which I’ve talked a lot about. One of the worst deals I’ve ever seen is the Iran deal.

My administration has already imposed new sanctions on Iran, and I will do more to prevent Iran from ever developing — I mean ever — a nuclear weapon. Our security assistance to Israel is currently at an all-time high, ensuring that Israel has the ability to defend itself from threats, of which there are unfortunately many.

Both of our countries will continue and grow. We have a long history of cooperation in the fight against terrorism and the fight against those who do not value human life. America and Israel are two nations that cherish the value of all human life.

This is one more reason why we reject unfair and one-sided actions against Israel at the United Nations, which has treated Israel in my opinion very, very unfairly, or other international forums, as well as boycotts that target Israel.

Our administration is committed to working with Israel and our common allies in the region towards greater security and stability. That includes working toward a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. The United States will encourage a peace, and really a great peace deal. We’ll be working on it very, very diligently. Very important to me also, something we want to do.

But it is the parties themselves who must directly negotiate such an agreement. We’ll be beside them. We’ll be working with them. As with any successful negotiation, both sides will have to make compromises.

You know that, right?


TRUMP: I want the Israeli people to know that the United States stands with Israel in the struggle against terrorism. As you know, Mr. Prime Minister, our two nations will always condemn terrorist acts. Peace requires nations to uphold the dignity of human life and to be a voice for all of those who are endangered and forgotten.

Those are the ideals to which we all and will always aspire and commit. This will be the first of many productive meetings and I again, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much for being with us today. Mr. Prime Minister, thank you.

NETANYAHU: President Trump, thank you for the truly warm hospitality you and Melania have shown me, my wife Sara, our entire delegation. I deeply value your friendship. To me, to the state Israel, it was so clearly evident in the words you just spoke, Israel has no better ally than the United States. And I want to assure you, the United States has no better ally than Israel.

Our alliance has been remarkably strong, but under your leadership, I’m confident it will get even stronger. I look forward to working with you to dramatically upgrade our alliance in every field, in security and technology and cyber and trade and so many others, and I certainly welcome your forthright call to ensure that Israel is treated fairly in international forums and that the slander and boycotts of Israel are resisted mightily by the power and moral position of the United States of America.

As you have said, our lives are based on a deep bond of common values and common interest. And increasingly, those values and interests are under attack by one malevolent force, radical Islamic terror. Mr. President, you’ve shown great clarity and courage in confronting this challenge head on. You call for confronting Iran’s terrorist regime, preventing Iran from realizing this terrible deal into a nuclear arsenal, and you have said that the United States is committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons. You call for the defeat of ISIS.

Under your leadership, I believe we can reverse the rising tide of radical Islam, and in this great task, as in so many others, Israel stands with you and I stand with you. Mr. President, in rolling back militant Islam, we can seize an historic opportunity because for the first time in my lifetime and for the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but increasingly as an ally.

I believe that under your leadership, this change in our region creates an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen security and advance peace. Let us seize this moment together. Let us bolster security. Let us seek new avenues of peace and let us bring the remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States to even greater heights.

Thank you, thank you, Mr. President.

TRUMP: Thank you. Again, thank you.

We’ll take a couple of questions. David Brody, Christian Broadcasting. David?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister. Both of you have criticized the Iran nuclear deal and at times even called for its repeal. I wonder if you’re concerned at all as it relates to not just the national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who is recently no longer here, but also some of those events that have been going on with… Russia, if that is gonna hamper this deal at all, and whether or not it would keep Iran from becoming a nuclear state? And secondly, on the settlement issue, are you both on the same page?… Thank you.

TRUMP: Michael Flynn — General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the fake media in many cases. And I think it’s really a sad thing that he was treated so badly. I think in addition to that from intelligence, papers are being leaked, things are being leaked, it’s criminal action. It’s a criminal act and it’s been going on for a long time before me but now it’s really going on. People are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton. I think it’s very, very unfair what’s happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated and the documents and papers that were illegally — I stress that, illegally leaked.

Very, very unfair. As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. We’ll work something out. But I would like to see a deal be made, I think a deal will be made. I know that every president would like to — most of them have not started till late because they never thought it was possible and it was impossible because they didn’t do it, but Bibi and I’ve known each other a long time.

Smart man, great negotiator, and I think we’re going to make a deal. It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand. That’s a possibility so let’s see what we do.

NETANYAHU: [Inaudible]

TRUMP: Doesn’t sound too optimistic but… good negotiator.

NETANYAHU: That’s the art of the deal.


TRUMP: I also want to thank — I also want to thank Sara, can you please stand up? You’re so lovely and you’ve been so nice to Melania, I appreciate it very much.


Thank you. Your turn.

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, as they arrive at the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump greet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, as they arrive at the White House in Washington, DC, February 15, 2017. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

NETANYAHU: Who is it? Udi Segal? Yeah, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mr. President, in your vision for the new Middle East peace, are you ready to give up of the notion of two-state solution that was adopted by previous administration? And will you be willing to hear different ideas from the prime ministers as some of his partners are asking him to do, for example, annexation of parts of the West Bank and unrestricted settlement constructions? And one more question, are you going to fulfill your promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? And if so, when? And Mr. Prime Minister, did you come here tonight to tell the president that you’re backing off the two-state solution? Thank you.

TRUMP: So, I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two but honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.

As far as the embassy moving to Jerusalem, I’d love to see that happen. We’re looking at it very, very strongly. We’re looking at it with great care, great care, believe me. And we’ll see what happens. OK?

NETANYAHU: Thank you. I read yesterday that an American official said that if you ask five people what two states would look like, you’d get eight different answers. Mr. President, if you ask five Israelis, you’d get twelve different answers.

But rather than deal with labels, I want to deal with substance. It’s something I’ve hoped to do for years in a world that’s absolutely fixated on labels and not on substance. So here’s the substance. There are two prerequisites for peace that I laid out two — several years ago and they haven’t changed. First, the Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state.

They have to stop calling for Israel’s destruction, they have to stop educating their people for Israel’s destruction. Second, in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River because if we don’t, we know what will happen. Because otherwise, we’ll get another radical Islamic terrorist state in the Palestinian areas exploding the peace, exploding the Middle East.

Now unfortunately, the Palestinians vehemently reject both prerequisites for peace. First they continue to call for Israel’s destruction inside their schools, inside their mosques, inside the textbooks. You have to read it to believe it. They even — you know, they even deny, Mr. President, our historical connection to our homeland. And I suppose you have to ask yourself, why do — why are Jews called Jews?

Well, the Chinese are called Chinese because they come from China. The Japanese are called Japanese because they come from Japan. Well, Jews are called Jews because they come from Judea. This is our ancestral homeland. Jews are not foreign colonialists in Judea.

So unfortunately, the Palestinians not only denied the past, they also poisoned the present. They named public squares in honor of mass murderers who murdered Israelis and I have to say, also murdered Americans. They — fund — they pay monthly salaries to the families of murderers, like the family of the terrorist who killed a Taylor Force, a wonderful young American, a West Point graduate, who was stabbed to death while visiting Israel.

So this is the source of the conflict. The persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state in any boundary, this persistent rejectionism, that’s the reason we don’t have peace. Now that has to change, I want it to change. Not only have I not abandoned these two perquisites of peace, they’ve become even more important because of the rising tide of fanaticism that has swept the Middle East and is also unfortunately, infected Palestinian society.

So I want this to change. I want those two perquisites of peace, substance, not labels, I want them re-instated. But if anyone believes that I, as prime minister of Israel, responsible for the security of my country, would blindly walk into a Palestinian terrorist state that seeks the destruction of my country, they’re gravely mistaken.

The two perquisites of peace, recognition of the Jewish state and Israel security needs, western to Jordan, they remain pertinent. We have to look for new ways, new ideas, on how to re-instate and how to move peace forward. And I believe that the great opportunity for peace comes from a regional approach from involving our new-found Arab partners in the pursuant of a broader peace and peace will the Palestinians.

And I greatly look forward to discussing this in detail with you Mr. President, because, I think that if we work together, we have a shot.

TRUMP: And we have been discussing that and it is something that is very different, hasn’t been discussed before. And it’s actually a much bigger deal — much more important deal in a sense. It would take in many, many countries and would cover a very large territory. So, I didn’t know you were going to be mentioning that, but that’s now (spa) that you did. I think it’s a terrific things and I think we have some pretty good cooperation from people that in the past, would never ever have even thought about doing this. So we’ll see how that works out. OK.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You said in your earlier remarks that both sides will have to make would compromises when it comes to a peace deal. You’ve mentioned a (inaudible). Can you lay out a few more specific compromises that you have in mind, both for the Israeli and Palestinians? And Mr. Prime Minister, what expectations do you have from the new administration about how to either amend the Iran nuclear agreement or how to dismantle it altogether? And how to overall work with the new administration to combat Iran’s increased aggression, not only in the last couple of months, but the past couple of years as well?

TRUMP: That’s actually an interesting question. I think that — the Israelis are gonna have to show some flexibility, which is hard, it’s hard to do. They’re gonna have to show the fact that they really want to make a deal. I think our new concept that we’ve been discussing actually for a while is something that allows them to show more flexibility than they have in the past, because we have a lot bigger canvas to play with.

And I think they’ll do that. I think they very much would like to will make a deal, or I wouldn’t be happy and I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be as optimistic as I am. I really think — I can tell you from the standpoint of me being from the standpoint of Israel, I really believe they want to make a deal. And they’d like to see the big deal.

I think the Palestinians have to get rid of some of that hate that they are taught from a very young age. They’re taught tremendous hate. I’ve seen what they’re taught. And you can talk about flexibility there too, but it starts at a very young age and it starts in the schoolroom. And they have to acknowledge, as you know, they’re going to have to do that.

There’s no way a deal can be made if they’re not ready to acknowledge a very, very great and important country. And I think they’re going to be willing to do that also. But now I also believe, we’re going to have — Katie (ph) — other players at a very high level and I think it might make it easier on both of Palestinians and Israel to get something done.

OK? Thank you. Very interesting question. Thank you.

US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC February 15, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / Mandel Ngan)
US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC February 15, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / Mandel Ngan)

NETANYAHU: You asked about Iran. One thing is preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, something that President Trump and I, I think, are deeply committed to do. And we are obviously going to discuss that.

I think beyond that, President Trump has led a very important effort in the past few weeks, just coming into the presidency. He pointed out there are violations — Iranian violations on ballistic missile tests. By the way, these ballistic missiles are inscribed in Hebrew, “Israel must be destroyed.”

The Palestinian — rather, the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif said, “Our ballistic missiles are not intended against any country.” No, they write on the missiles in Hebrew, “Israel must be destroyed.”

So, challenging Iran on its violations of ballistic missiles; imposing sanctions on Hezbollah, preventing them, making them pay for the terrorism that they foment throughout the Middle East and beyond, well beyond, I think that’s a change that is clearly evident in — since President Trump took office.

I welcome that. I think it’s — let me say this very openly — I think it’s long overdue. And I think that if we work together, and not just the United States and Israel, but so many others in the region who see eye to eye on the — on the great magnitude and danger of the Iranian threat. And I think — I think we can roll back Iran’s aggression and danger.

And that’s something that is important for Israel and the Arab states. But I think it’s vitally important for America. These guys are developing ICBMs. They’re developing — they want to get to a nuclear arsenal, not a bomb; 100 bombs. And they want to have the ability to launch them everywhere on earth, and including — and especially, eventually the United States.

So this is something that is important for all of us. I welcome the change. And I intend to work with President Trump very closely so that we can thwart this danger.

QUESTION: Mr. President, since your election campaign and even after your victory, we’ve seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic — anti- Semitic incidents across the United States. And I wonder, what do you say to those among the Jewish community in the states and in Israel and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones? And Mr. Prime Minister, do you agree to what the president just said about the need for Israel to restrain or to stop settlement activity in the West Bank? And if we could follow up on my friend’s question — simple question: Do you back off from your vision to the (inaudible) conflict of two-state solution as you lay out in (inaudible) speech? Or you still support it? Thank you.

TRUMP: Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had — 316 electoral college votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.

I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on. There’s a lot of bad things that have been taking place over a long period of time.

I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation, very divided. And hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And I, you know, it was something that was very important to me.

As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening.

And you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love.

OK? Thank you.

NETANYAHU: I believe that the issue of the settlements is not the core of the conflict, nor does it really drive the conflict. I think it’s an issue that has to be resolved in the context of peace negotiations. And I think we’d also — we also are gonna speak about it, President Trump and I, so we can arrive at an understanding so we don’t keep on bumping into each other all the time on this issue and we’re going to discuss this.

On the question you said — you just back with your question to the problem that I said. It’s the label. What does (inaudible) by two states, OK? What does he mean? A state that doesn’t recognize the Jewish state? A state that basically is open for attack again Israel? You know, what are we talking about? Are we talking about Costa Rica? Are we talking about another (ph) Iran? So obviously, it means different things.

I told you what are the conditions that I believe are necessary for an agreement. It’s the recognition of the Jewish state and Israel’s — Israel’s security control of the entire area. Otherwise, we’re just fantasizing. Otherwise, we’ll get another failed state, another terrorist Islamist dictatorship that will not work for peace, but work to destroy us, but also destroy any hope for a peaceful future for our people.

US President Trump speaks at joint news conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu in the White House February 15, 2017, (Screen capture: YouTube)
US President Trump speaks at joint news conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu in the White House February 15, 2017, (Screen capture: YouTube)

So I’ve been very clear about those conditions and they haven’t changed. I haven’t changed. If you read what I said eight years ago, it’s exactly that and I repeated that again and again and again. If you want to deal with labels, deal with labels, I’ll deal with substance.

And finally one — if I can respond to something that I know from personal experience, I’ve known President Trump for many years, and to elude to him or to his people, his team, some of whom I’ve known for many years too — can I revealed, Jared, how long we’ve known you? Well, he was never small, he was always big.

He was always tall. But I’ve known the president and I’ve known his family and his team for a long time. There is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump. I think we should put that to rest.

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Very nice. I appreciate that very much.

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