On the Palestinians, 'not much to report,' Netanyahu says

Netanyahu says Trump willing to ‘fix’ Iran nuclear deal

PM presents US president with plan on how to go about changing the agreement, argues that other world powers will likely follow US’s lead

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to their meeting at the Palace Hotel in New York City ahead of the United Nations General Assembly on September 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to their meeting at the Palace Hotel in New York City ahead of the United Nations General Assembly on September 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

NEW YORK — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented US President Donald Trump with a detailed plan on how to “fix” the nuclear agreement with Iran during a meeting Monday, he said.

“There is an American willingness to fix the deal, and I presented possible ways to do it,” he told reporters after his hour-long meeting with the president. “I presented a certain course of action how to do it,” he added, declining to provide more details.

The worst aspect of the 2015 nuclear pact that six world powers struck with Iran is the so-called sunset clause, which will allow Tehran to enrich unlimited amounts of uranium once the deal elapses in about a decade, he said. “But there are also other parts that need to be changed.”

In a photo op before their meeting, Netanyahu, speaking after Trump, attacked the Iran deal, which the president had said earlier in the day the US may back out of next month.

“I look forward to discussing with you how we can address together what you rightly call a terrible nuclear deal with Iran, and how to roll back Iran’s growing aggression in the region, especially in Syria,” Netanyahu said.

In his comments to reporters afterward, Netanyahu extolled the Trump administration for agreeing with him that the deal is “terrible” — indeed, “the worst deal in history,” Netanyahu quoted Trump as saying — and needs to be either changed or dismantled altogether.

Israel has no preference for whether the deal is fixed or nixed, as long as its problematic aspects are removed, Netanyahu said, and the way to achieve that is to heap sanctions on Iran.

The very fact that the US administration is talking about changing or tearing up the deal when it comes up for review again in October is a welcome development, Netanyahu added. If Washington were to seek to renegotiate the terms, other world powers would surely follow suit, he posited.

“I said in the past that the largest problem would not be Iran violating the deal — which would be bad in itself — but it’s even more problematic if Iran keeps the deal,” Netanyahu said. If Iran were to adhere to the deal, it would “within a short time frame be able to produce an industrial nuclear arsenal. Therefore, I don’t dismiss the issue of enforcement; I am just saying it deals with one problem only.”

Trump and Netanyahu did not discuss ways of enforcing the existing the deal, he said, but focused on the “bigger problem: the actual existence of the deal,” which was shepherded by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

As opposed to Obama, who defended the agreement vociferously in the face of corrosive criticism from Netanyahu, Trump views Iran not as a part of the solution but as “the source for the problems in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said. “On this way, we entirely agree. Now we’re discussing the details.”

Netanyahu dismissed reports about senior US security officials advocating for the deal to be left in place unaltered. “I think that some support [my position], and others oppose it. So what? I made my position very clear, as I told you: either change or cancel the agreement. Because if it won’t be changed, it will lead to Iran’s nuclearization. That’s my position, that’s what I think needs to be done.”

The two leaders also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Netanyahu said, stressing, however, that the lion’s share of the meeting dealt with other topics. “I agreed with his willingness to reach peace with the Palestinians, and I insist on our vital national interests, including security,” he said.

“He has a strong willingness to advance peace, and the issue of general reconciliation with the Arab word,” the prime minister went on, referring to Trump.

Asked if the president had made any requests of him on the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu replied: “He didn’t get into details. He really wants to see progress. He mainly tasked his team with this — Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, these are excellent people. We’re making every effort. Besides that, there is not much to report.”

Asked what his “endgame” was for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu said: “Peace and security, security and peace — they’re connected. There won’t be peace without Israel having ironclad security arrangements. An agreement without security arrangements would last exactly two hours.”

Earlier on Monday, Trump warned that the US will quit the Iran deal if the UN’s atomic energy agency shows “weakness” in monitoring it. If the International Atomic Energy Agency does not require and obtain access to Iranian military sites suspected of hosting illicit nuclear activity, “we will not accept a weakly enforced or inadequately monitored deal,” Trump said in a statement to the watchdog’s annual meeting in Vienna.

But at the photo op before their meeting, Trump barely mentioned Iran, instead reiterating his desire to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and telling the visiting Netanyahu there was a “good chance” such an accord could happen.

“We’re going to be discussing many things, among them peace between the Palestinians and Israel,” Trump told reporters while sitting alongside Netanyahu in the New York Palace Hotel. “It would be a fantastic achievement. We’re giving it an absolute go. I think there’s a good chance that it could happen.”

Added Trump: “I really think we have a chance. I think Israel would like to see it and I think the Palestinians would like to see it. And I can tell you that the Trump administration would like to see it. So we’re working very hard on it, we’ll see what happens. Historically, people say it can’t happen. I say it can happen.”

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