US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin met Sunday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for talks on Iran sanctions and cooperation between the two countries to combat terrorism, as the US finance chief kicked off a six-country tour of the Middle East.
In statements before the meeting, the Israeli leader praised the strength of the relationship between the two countries as the two governments work to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“The US-Israel alliance under President Trump has never been stronger,” Netanyahu said. “I appreciate that alliance and the strength of our relations in every field — in intelligence, security, cooperation in trade and economic cooperation, and of course in our common approach in preventing aggression in this region.”
Mnuchin noted that it was his third trip to Israel in the past year, and took the opportunity to wish Netanyahu a happy birthday before agreeing with the prime minister’s statement.
“We have no better partner than Israel in combating terrorist financing,” he said.
The treasury secretary also noted the importance of the economic relationship between the two countries and said that the US would make further investments.
“We have a very important relationship with Israel. This is really a great place for investments, particularly technology investments,” Mnuchin told reporters in Jerusalem.
“We are going to make sure we do more infrastructure investments here,” he added, without further elaboration.
Mnuchin will also meet with Israel’s Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and treasury officials to update the tax treaty between the two countries. The update would lower taxes for foreign investors and aims to draw more US investors to Israel, the Calcalist daily reported. The idea is to improve Israel’s tax regime to make it more competitive globally. The existing tax treaty, signed between the countries in the 1970s and entered into force in 1995, is outdated, Israeli officials have said, and needs to be updated.
The Trump administration has been steadily restoring sanctions on Iran since the president withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord in May.
Iran has been grappling with an economic crisis in recent months, with its currency plunging to historic lows and sporadic protests breaking out. The first set of sanctions, which were eased under the terms of the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration, was re-imposed in August. A second, more sweeping set of sanctions is set to be re-imposed in early November.
Earlier this month, US National Security Adviser John Bolton unveiled the administration’s long-awaited counterterrorism strategy, delivering it with harsh words for Iran.
Calling Iran the “world’s central banker of international terrorism,” Bolton said the strategy will rely on traditional military action to fight terrorists, but also seek increased emphasis on non-military means to battle not only Islamic State militants but those backed by Iran and other groups, specifically naming Hezbollah and Hamas as two terror groups supported by Iran that could pose a threat to the US.
The US and six Gulf Arab states recently hit Hezbollah’s leadership with sanctions and last week designated the terrorist group as a transnational organized crime threat.
Mnuchin was due to attend an investment conference in Saudi Arabia, but he said Thursday that he would not be participating in the event following a White House meeting with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
However, according to a Saturday report in the Washington Post, Mnuchin still plans to attend a meeting of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center in Riyadh, despite the suspected involvement of Saudi government officials and security services in the slaying of Khashoggi.
Agencies contributed to this report.