Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he would discuss the Iran nuclear deal as well as the Islamic Republic’s “increasing aggression” during his meeting later in the day with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as the secretary, still in Saudi Arabia, said Tehran “destabilizes this entire region.”
Washington’s newly appointed secretary of state, on his first trip abroad as America’s top diplomat, flew to Israel later in the day.
At a press conference in Riyadh Sunday, Pompeo warned that the Iran deal, in its current form, does not ensure that the regime in Tehran will not be able to attain nuclear weapons.
“We are determined to make sure it never possesses a nuclear weapon,” Pompeo said of Iran. “The Iran deal in its current form does not provide that assurance,” Pompeo added, standing alongside Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. “We will continue to work with our European allies to fix that deal. But if a deal cannot be reached, the (US) President has said that he will leave that deal.”
Netanyahu said he looked forward to hosting Pompeo. “We will today welcome with open arms Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a true friend of Israel,” Netanyahu told ministers at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting.
“It is significant that he is coming to Israel in his first official tour,” Netanyahu said. “I will discuss the increased Iranian aggression with him and of course the nuclear agreement with Iran, about which a decision should be made soon.”
“Relations are stronger than ever,” he added, thanking US President Donald Trump’s administration again for relocating the American embassy to Jerusalem, and saying other countries were now following in the US’s footsteps.
Trump is due to decide by May 12 whether to reimpose nuclear-related sanctions on Tehran, putting in peril the landmark 2015 accord, which most world powers see as key to preventing Tehran from getting the bomb.
But Trump and America’s Middle East allies argue that the deal, approved by the president’s predecessor Barack Obama, was too weak and needs to be replaced with a more permanent arrangement and supplemented by controls on Iran’s missile program.
Pompeo met Sunday with Saudi King Salman and Foreign Minister Jubeir. “Iran destabilizes this entire region,” he said in brief remarks to journalists alongside al-Jubeir, who said the kingdom “supports the policy of the Trump administration against Iran and to improve the terms of the nuclear agreement with Iran.”
The ex-CIA chief had arrived in Riyadh a day earlier, shortly after Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen fired missiles at Saudi Arabia’s southern city of Jizan, killing one person and underscoring what US officials said is a growing threat emanating from Iran.
Senior US officials traveling with Pompeo blamed Iran for smuggling the missiles into Yemen. They said the incident highlighted the importance of the Trump administration’s push to counter Iran in the region. Iran has also provided crucial support to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Pompeo set off on his first diplomatic trip within two hours of being sworn in on Thursday, and on Friday — after talks with the NATO allies in Brussels — he suggested that Trump could nix the deal.
“Absent a substantial fix, absent overcoming the shortcomings, the flaws of the deal, he is unlikely to stay in that deal past this May,” Pompeo told reporters at NATO headquarters.
Perhaps the last chance to fix those alleged shortcomings came from talks between Washington and its European allies Britain, France and Germany on a supplemental agreement to sanction Iran’s missile program.
But both President Emmanuel Macron of France and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel left Washington this week after talks with Trump having failed to secure any promise that he might keep the core deal alive.
Pompeo’s senior policy adviser Brian Hook said that Iran’s missile program would be one of the focuses of talks with Israel and the Saudis. He also called on Europe and the rest of the international community to sanction Tehran as a means of curbing that program.
“We are urging nations around the world to sanction any individuals and entities associated with Iran’s missile program, and it has also been a big part of discussions with Europeans,” Hook said, according to Reuters.
Pompeo, a former Kansas politician, is seen as an anti-Iran hawk with hardline views about projecting US military might.
After meeting with Netanyahu on Sunday, Pompeo will fly on to Jordan, wrapping up a weekend of talks with some of Iran’s most fervent foes in the region.