Trump and Netanyahu discuss ‘threat from Iran’ in second call in weeks

Short statement from White House says leaders also talk about ‘other critical bilateral and regional issues,’ but gives no details

US President Donald Trump, right, and visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk along the Colonnade of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
US President Donald Trump, right, and visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walk along the Colonnade of the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

US President Donald Trump spoke Sunday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the two leaders focusing talks on “the threat from Iran,” the White House said.

“The leaders discussed the threat from Iran, as well as other critical bilateral and regional issues,” a brief statement said late Sunday.

There was no immediate readout on the call from Israel.

The two last spoke on November 19, when Netanyahu thanked the president for Washington’s decision to repudiate a State Department legal opinion that said West Bank settlements were illegal.

Though Netanyahu and Trump were once close allies who touted their friendship to their respective bases, ties between the two have been seen as cooling in recent months as the Israeli premier has struggled to cling to power.

Netanyahu has also reportedly become uneasy with what he perceives as Trump’s unwillingness to stand up to Iranian aggression.

The two leaders will both be in London later this week at a NATO summit. While Netanyahu is reportedly planning on meeting several European heads of state, no plans for a sit down with Trump have been announced.

The call came hours after Netanyahu lambasted European nations for seeking to circumvent circumvent US sanctions on Iran.

“While the Iranian regime is killing its own people, European countries rush to support that very murderous regime,” Netanyahu said in a video released Sunday, castigating the six new European members of the INSTEX barter mechanism.

In a separate statement, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said “Belgium, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden could not have picked worse timing. The hundreds of innocent Iranians murdered during the latest round of protests are rolling in their graves.”

Protests broke out across sanctions-hit Iran on November 15, hours after a sharp fuel price hike was announced.

Iraqi anti-government protesters burn an Iranian flag during protests in Baghdad, Iraq, November 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Reports of deaths and arrests emerged as security forces were deployed to rein in demonstrations which turned violent in some areas, with dozens of banks, gas stations and police stations torched.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International has said that 161 demonstrators were killed.

Late Sunday, the New York Times reported that Guards forces had massacred up to 100 people hiding in a marsh in a single incident.

A 2015 international agreement set out restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of Western sanctions. The deal was opposed by Israel, which argued that Iran’s regime would find ways to violate the agreement, and would use the breathing room to expand its ballistic missile program and support for terror groups throughout the region.

Last year, the US unilaterally withdrew from the deal and reinstated crippling sanctions against Tehran. The INSTEX system is designed to sidestep the sanctions and keep the deal afloat.

Aman exchanges Iranian Rials for US Dollars at an exchange shop in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on August 8, 2018. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare/File)

Israel has praised the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic Republic. But Netanyahu lamented on Sunday that European nations were in a “rush to appease” Tehran.

Pointing to mass protests against Iran-backed regimes and groups throughout the region, from Iraq to Lebanon to Iran itself, Netanyahu said the people of the region were “fed up. They’re fed up with corruption. They’re fed up with failing economies. They’re fed [up] with the siphoning off of their treasure and their lives to Iran’s wars of aggression in the region.

“And while the people of the Middle East bravely stand up to Iran and its henchmen, here’s the absurd thing: While all of this is happening, countries in Europe are working to bypass US sanctions against Iran…. While Iran bombs Saudi Arabia’s oil installations, while Iran rushes to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, European countries rush to appease Iran with even more concessions.”

In an apparent reference to World War II, the Israeli leader added: “These European countries should be ashamed of themselves. Have they learned nothing from history? Well, apparently not.

“They are enabling a fanatic terrorist state to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, thereby bringing disaster to themselves and upon everyone else.”

The Paris-based INSTEX functions as a clearing house allowing Iran to continue to sell oil and import other products or services in exchange. The system has not yet enabled any transactions.

Iran has gradually increased enrichment and the stockpiling of nuclear material in contravention of the 2005 agreement, as a means of pressuring Europe to bolster the INSTEX system. European countries have expressed alarm at Iran’s moves, but say they remain committed to the nuclear accord.

The accession of the six new members “further strengthens INSTEX and demonstrates European efforts to facilitate legitimate trade between Europe and Iran,” France, Germany, and Britain said.

It represents “a clear expression of our continuing commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” — the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal — the trio added.

They insisted Iran must return to full compliance with its commitments under the deal “without delay.”

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