Netanyahu says he’s confident Trump will continue to press Iran

Netanyahu says he’s confident Trump will continue to press Iran

Amid increasing signs of US-Iran detente, PM says Israeli government is continuously urging the White House to maintain its sanctions campaign

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

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)

The Israeli government is continuously urging the White House to maintain its pressure on Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday, asserting that he is confident US President Donald Trump will not soften its position on the Islamic Republic.

Netanyahu’s comments come amid several indications that a significant US-Iran detente is on the horizon, chiefly Trump’s statement that he would be happy to meet his Iranian counterpart later this month and is reportedly willing to ease sanctions on the regime to enable such a summit.

“We’re in constant contact with the United States, with President Trump and his team, about the need to continue to exert pressure on Iran,” Netanyahu told reporters as he made his way to Sochi for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Netanyahu said he opposed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the US helped negotiate but has since quit, because it did not condition the lifting of sanctions against the regime on a change of its behavior.

“It conditioned [sanctions relief] on a mere automatic change of the calendar, and that’s wrong,” Netanyahu said. “I am sure that President Trump will continue the policy of demanding changes in Iran’s behavior, both in its quest for nuclear weapons and also in its aggression in the region.”

Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu conceded in an interview with the Kan radio station that he could not prevent a Trump-Rouhani meeting.

“I have influence over Trump. You can’t dictate to the president of the United States who to meet. There is nobody who has influenced or is influencing the offensive strategy on Iran more than yours truly,” he said.

Also on Thursday, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said US Under-Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker told him in a meeting in Tel Aviv that “as opposed to reports, there is no change in US policy regarding sanctions on Iran, and that they will continue with full force.”

US Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker (YouTube screenshot)

On Wednesday, the Daily Beast reported that Trump was actively considering a French plan to extend a $15 billion line of credit to Iran in return for the Islamic Republic’s compliance with the nuclear deal.

Four sources with knowledge of the US president’s conversations with French President Emmanuel Macron told the news outlet that Trump “has in recent weeks shown openness to entertaining” the proposal.

On Tuesday, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer urged the United States to “stay the course” and increase pressure on the Islamic Republic.

“What is important now is to stay the course, stand up to Iran’s aggression and continue ratcheting up the pressure until Iran abandons its nuclear ambitions once and for all,” Dermer said at a pre-Rosh Hashanah reception at Israel’s Washington embassy. “Israel looks forward to working with the Trump administration to do just that in the year ahead.”

Dermer otherwise lavishly praised Trump for his increased sanctions on Iran as well as for other moves, including moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Earlier on Tuesday, the US president had fired his national security adviser, John Bolton, for opposing Trump’s openness to diplomatic engagement with Iran, among other things. Bloomberg on Wednesday reported that Bolton forcefully opposed a recent plan to reduce sanctions on Iran as a means of setting up a meeting later this month between Trump and the Iranian president Rouhani.

In this file photo taken on April 9, 2018 former National Security Adviser John Bolton (R), listens to US President Donald Trump. (MARK WILSON / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

Speaking to reporters on the tarmac on Thursday, minutes before he boarded a plane to Sochi, Netanyahu said his whirlwind trip to Russia, less than a week before the Knesset elections, was “very important” for Israel’s security.

“At this time, we are operating on several fronts, 360 degrees, in order to ensure the security of Israel in the face of the attempts of Iran and its proxies to attack us, and we are working against them,” he said.

“The Syrian arena is the main one; we hear about it from time to time. It is important that we continue to maintain freedom of action for the IDF, including the air force, against Iranian, Hezbollah and other terrorist targets,” he said.

Netanyahu said his conversations will focus on Israeli-Russian military cooperation, “and to continue to advance the common goal that we agree on, which has yet to be achieved and which is far from being achieved, and that is the withdrawal of Iran from Syria.”

In Sochi, Netanyahu will also meet Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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