US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser on Monday bemoaned the “wretched” Iranian nuclear deal in his talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, as the senior US aide and Israeli premier called for stepped-up global pressure on Tehran to curb its military activities.
Ahead of a day of discussions between Israeli and American security officials, John Bolton told Netanyahu that the United States sees the “highest importance” in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and that’s why Trump withdrew from the deal negotiated by the Obama administration and was reapplying stiff sanctions.
Bolton has been a strident critic of the nuclear deal and has pushed for greater pressure on Tehran to ensure it halts its support for terror groups in the Mideast and stops development of ballistic missiles. A former ambassador to the United Nations under president George W. Bush, Bolton is a longtime hawkish advocate for Israel.
Bolton said Washington was working to convince European allies “of the need to take stronger steps against the Iranian nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.”
Netanyahu agreed the deal was “disastrous” and called Trump’s decision to drop out historic. He repeated his oft-used refrain that “the nuclear deal did not block Iran’s path to the bomb, it paved Iran’s path to an entire nuclear arsenal.”
“By removing the sanctions [the deal] enabled Iran to bring in billions and billions of dollars to its coffers which only fueled Iran’s war machine in Syria, in Lebanon, in Yemen and elsewhere,” said Netanyahu.
The premier stated that Israel’s gratitude for Trump’s decision to walk away from the accord “is shared by all our Arab neighbors… practically everyone in this region,” and added that “all countries that care about peace and security in the Middle East should follow America’s lead and ratchet up the pressure on Iran. Because the greater the pressure on Iran, the greater the chance that the regime will roll back its aggression.”
“It’s important the people of Iran understand that our fight is not with them. Our fight is with the regime that brutally represses them, that arrests women for uncovering their hair, that hangs gays in the public squares, that defies the aspirations for freedom of millions and millions of Iranians,” declared Netanyahu.
Bolton, an Iran hawk, was seen as a central player in the US decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal in May.
Netanyahu lauded Bolton for “dedicating three days of meetings and discussions to your visit to Israel. That’s no small matter.
“Your visit here gives us an opportunity to make [the relationship] even stronger and to ally our policies even more closely on Iran, on Syria, on Gaza, and on the many challenges that face both our countries in this region.”
Both men said ties between the two nations had never been better. Bolton made a point of noting his “privilege and an honor to be here in Jerusalem, Israel’s capital.”
Netanyahu thanked the Trump administration for its commitment to Israeli security. “Israel believes it has no greater friend and ally than the United States. And I believe that the United States has no greater friend and ally than Israel,” he said.
On Sunday, ahead of a joint dinner, Netanyahu had said the talks would focus mainly on “rolling back Iran’s aggression” in the Middle East. Netanyahu called Bolton a “tremendous friend” of Israel, and praised Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
Bolton was on his first visit to Israel since he replaced H.R. McMaster as Trump’s national security adviser in April. Following his trip to Israel, Bolton will travel to Ukraine and Geneva, where he will follow up with Russian officials on Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month in Helsinki.
From Israel, Bolton earlier on Sunday told ABC’s “This Week” that getting Iranian forces to withdraw from Syria was a goal shared by the Washington, Jerusalem, and Moscow.
“Certainly the objective of the United States, of Israel, President Putin said it was Russia’s objective is to get Iran — Iranian forces, Iranian militias, Iranian surrogates out of the offensive operations they’re in in both Syria and Iraq and frankly, to end Iran’s support for Hezbollah,” he said.
During their meeting in Helsinki, both Trump and Putin expressed their commitment to Israel’s security, with the latter saying the two agreed on securing Israel’s northern border with Syria in accordance with the 1974 disengagement agreement following the Yom Kippur War.
As pro-regime Syrian troops have returned to the border in recent months as part of a Russian-backed offensive, Israel has called for the upholding of the disengagement accord and maintaining the buffer zone on the Golan frontier, amid concerns Iranian-aligned forces could establish themselves in the area.
Few details were released on Bolton’s itinerary or his agenda for talks with Israeli officials. A US embassy official said the discussions with Netanyahu and other Israeli officials would include “regional security issues.”