Iran is reeling from protests, Netanyahu says ahead of Pompeo meet in Portugal
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'We're seeing the Iranian empire totter'

Iran is reeling from protests, Netanyahu says ahead of Pompeo meet in Portugal

Prime minister urges more pressure on Tehran, admonishes Europeans for giving regime an out with INSTEX mechanism; Jordan Valley annexation and defense pact also on table in Lisbon

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for increased pressure on Iran and lambasted Europe for being soft on Tehran, as he headed to Portugal on Wednesday for a meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the Islamic Republic and controversial West Bank annexation plans.

Speaking on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport before leaving for Lisbon, Netanyahu praised the US administration for putting “tremendous pressures and sanctions on Iran,” which he said was leading to instability that could cripple the ayatollah regime.

“We’re seeing the Iranian empire totter,” he said, citing protests in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, in which some demonstrators have expressed anger at Iran’s influence. “I think that it’s important to increase this pressure against Iranian aggression.”

At the center of Netanyahu’s two-day trip to Lisbon is a planned working dinner with Pompeo, a pro-Israel stalwart and key architect of Washington’s so-called maximum pressure campaign against Iran, which includes tough economic sanctions.

Iranian protesters gather around a fire during a demonstration against an increase in gasoline prices in the capital Tehran, on November 16, 2019. (AFP)

The prime minister is also slated to meet with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa and Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva.

Speaking to reporters before taking off, Netanyahu said the conversation with Pompeo would “focus first of all on Iran, and two additional matters: the defense pact with the US that I seek to advance, and also a future American recognition of Israel applying sovereignty over the Jordan Valley. These are very important issues, we are dealing with them all the time. And there are also other issues, that I will not detail now.”

Talks are expected to revolve around the Iranian regime’s efforts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, as well as its increasing violations of the 2015 nuclear deal, including its recent decision to resume enrichment of uranium at the Fordo nuclear facility.

The prime minister also repeated his harsh criticism of European countries who recently joined the INSTEX financial mechanism, which is meant to allow Iran to continue to sell its oil despite the punishing US sanctions.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s sukkah, during talks with the prime minister on October 18, 2019. At left is US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)

“They should be ashamed of themselves,” Netanyahu said angrily. “While people are risking their lives and dying on the streets of Tehran, they’re giving sustenance and support to this tyrannical regime. The tyrants of Tehran should not be supported now; they should be pressured.”

Pompeo and Netanyahu last met in October in Jerusalem. According to reports, Netanyahu had originally planned to meet Pompeo in London, where world leaders, including US President Donald Trump are gathering for a NATO summit this week.

Netanyahu spoke with Trump over the phone on Sunday. According to the White House, the two discussed Iran and other unspecified bilateral issues.

Netanyahu later said that the proposed defense alliance and annexation of the Jordan Valley were discussed as well in the call, which he termed “a very important conversation for the security of Israel.”

“These are things that we could only dream about, but we have the possibility of implementing them,” he said.

A Palestinian shepherd herds his flock near the Israeli settlement of Argaman, in the Jordan Valley, a strip of West Bank land along the border with Jordan, December 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty/File)

On November 18, Pompeo appeared to pave the way for an Israeli annexation of the Jordan Valley, and possibly other parts of the West Bank, when he declared that the administration would no longer consider Israeli settlements as necessarily illegal under international law.

“We think the decision that was made that permits the possibility of legal settlements, that they are not illegal per se, is both the correct one and the one that is in the best interest of the security situation in Israel, as well as the situation between Israel and the Palestinian people,” Pompeo told the Israel Hayom newspaper last week.

Normalization drive

After leaving Portugal, Pompeo is slated to travel to Morocco, where he is expected to push normalization with Israel with King Mohammed IV in Rabat.

“Morocco plays a great role across the region as an important partner in promoting tolerance (and) has these quiet ties and relationship with Israel as well,” a State Department official said last week.

Morocco is one of several Arab states in the Middle East being pushed by the US to sign non-belligerence agreements with Israel, as a step toward normalizing relations with the Jewish state, according to a Tuesday report by Axios.

The trip marks the first visit to Portugal of an Israeli prime minister since 2000, when Ehud Barak went to Lisbon to meet then-US president Bill Clinton.

Netanyahu himself last traveled to Lisbon in December 1996, during his first term as prime minister, when he attended a European Council for Security and Cooperation summit there.

On Tuesday, the top US diplomat made headlines for an entirely different matter, as reports emerged claiming he started preparing for a possible run for an open Senate seat in Kansas next year.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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