Nuke deal deadline nearing, Netanyahu and Trump discuss ‘problems posed’ by Iran
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Nuke deal deadline nearing, Netanyahu and Trump discuss ‘problems posed’ by Iran

In phone conversation between White House and Jerusalem, the two leaders weigh the 'continuing threats and challenges facing the Middle East region' from Tehran

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

US President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — With a deadline for amending the Iran nuclear deal or walking away from it just weeks away, US President Donald Trump spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone Saturday about Tehran’s malign influence on the region, the White House said on Sunday.

“The two leaders discussed the continuing threats and challenges facing the Middle East region, especially the problems posed by the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities,” according to a White House readout of the conversation.

Earlier on Sunday, Trump’s newly minted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Israel on his first foreign trip. While speaking alongside Netanyahu during a joint press conference, the former CIA director said that Trump remained committed to exiting the landmark accord if changes weren’t made and said that Iranian aggression against Israel — by trying to establish a military presence in Syria — was exacerbating American concerns.

“President Trump’s been pretty clear: This deal is very flawed. He’s directed the administration to try and fix it and if we can’t fix it he’s going to withdraw from the deal,” Pompeo said.

Pompeo also warned of Iran’s “destabilizing and malign activities” in the Middle East.

“We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats to Israel and the region and Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East remains,” he said.

“The United States is with Israel in this fight,” Pompeo added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on April 29, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Netanyahu thanked Pompeo for his and Trump’s opposition to Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and their commitment to countering Iran’s regional “aggression.”

“That aggression has grown many folds since the signing of the Iran nuclear deal. If people thought that Iran’s aggression would be moderated as a result of signing the deal, the opposite has happened,” he said.

Hours later, Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton told Fox News that the president was still undecided about whether to scrap the nuclear pact.

“He has made no decision on the nuclear deal, whether to stay in or get out,” he said on the network’s Sunday morning program.

In January, Trump kept the deal alive by waiving sanctions against Iran — as required by the pact every six months — but said flatly it would be the last time he did that unless serious changes were made to the accord.

He specifically called for three major “fixes,” which included amending the sunset clauses, banning Iran’s capacity to test ballistic missiles and granting inspectors greater access to Iran’s military sites.

These demands were issued as an ultimatum to Congress and America’s European allies. Trump said that if these alterations were not struck by May 12, the next deadline to waive sanctions, he would walk away from the nuclear deal.

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