In warm first phone call, Trump invites Netanyahu to meet in February

US president says conversation was ‘very nice’; leaders discuss Palestinians, Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump meeting at Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump meeting at Trump Tower in New York, September 25, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

US President Donald Trump on Sunday invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet in Washington in February, as the two spoke for the first time since Trump took office on Friday, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

Trump and Netanyahu spoke on the phone Sunday, marking what some Israeli officials hope will be the start of reset in ties with the US after years of strained relations with the Obama administration.

According to Netanyahu’s office, the conversation was “very warm,” and the two leaders discussed the Iran deal, the peace process, and “other issues.”

“The prime minister expressed his desire to work closely with President Trump to forge a common vision to advance peace and security in the region, with no daylight between the United States and Israel,” a statement said.

During the conversation, Trump invited Netanyahu to Washington to meet in February. A final date will be set in the coming days, the statement said.

In Washington, Trump told reporters his phone conversation Sunday evening with Netanyahu “was very nice.”

Pressed by reporters after a swearing-in ceremony for his top aides, Trump refused to discuss the contents of the conversation between the two leaders, according to Reuters.

Earlier, Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting there was plenty for the two leaders to discuss.

“There are many issues between us, including the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the situation in Syria and the Iranian threat,” he said.

On Saturday night, Netanyahu released a video addressed to the Iranian people in which he vowed that aggression by Tehran would top his list of priorities during his first contacts with Trump.

“I plan to speak soon with President Trump about how to counter the threat of the Iranian regime, which calls for Israel’s destruction,” Netanyahu said in the video, speaking in English with Persian subtitles.

Netanyahu had also been expected to discuss Trump’s campaign pledge to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Less than an hour before the phone call, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer released a statement that the administration was “at the very beginning stages of even discussing” the embassy move.

Though the statement seemed to counter reports that the controversial move would be announced in the coming days, it was hailed by some in Israel as a sign that the US was on its way to full recognition of Jerusalem as the country’s capital.

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu convinced his cabinet to delay voting on a controversial bill to extend Israeli authority to the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim until after he had met with Trump. Netanyahu told his ministers that he didn’t want to blindside the US administration with any unilateral action.

At the swearing-in ceremony for his top advisers, Trump spoke briefly, but did not mention his conversation with Netanyahu minutes earlier. Instead, he spoke of his conversations with Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, in which he offered his condolences for the casualties of the severe weather there and offered help.

Trump also told those assembled that he would shortly be meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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