Trump told UN chief Netanyahu a ‘bigger problem’ than Abbas — report

During sit-down with Guterres, US president said to complain both sides ‘problematic’; White House official disputes story

US President Donald Trump and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speak during a meeting on United Nations reform at the UN headquarters in New York, September 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary)
US President Donald Trump and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speak during a meeting on United Nations reform at the UN headquarters in New York, September 18, 2017. (AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary)

US President Donald Trump reportedly told United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres that in his efforts to mediate a Middle East peace deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a “bigger problem” than Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

According to a report Wednesday in the Haaretz daily, Trump and Guterres sat down for a 15-minute meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 19. Western and Israeli sources told the paper that the leaders reserved a large chunk of the sit-down to discuss the US peace push.

“Trump said both leaders are problematic,” a Western diplomat briefed on the meeting said, adding, “The general context was that, from the two of them, Netanyahu is the bigger problem.”

A senior White House official disputed the account of Haaretz’s seven sources, insisting that the meeting between Trump and Guterres had been “productive” and that the pair barely discussed Washington’s peace efforts.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to their meeting at the Palace Hotel in New York City ahead of the United Nations General Assembly on September 18, 2017.(AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

But according to the Western diplomat, Trump reflected on the sit-down he had with with Netanyahu the previous day.

After the US president emphasized the seriousness of his intentions to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, the UN secretary general encouraged Trump to continue his efforts, the report said.

Guterres agreed with Trump’s assertion that the combination of an aging PA leader looking to leave behind a legacy coupled with Netanyahu’s understanding that he’ll never have a more friendly White House has presented a unique opportunity for peace.

Netanyahu had reportedly been surprised by Trump’s emphasis on peace talks during their September 18 meeting. The prime minister had expected the Iranian nuclear deal to be the topic of discussion, according to Haaretz.

But addressing reporters during a photo op prior to their meeting, Trump highlighted the Palestinian issue. “We are going to discuss peace between Israel and the Palestinians; it will be a fantastic achievement… We are giving it absolute go. There is a good chance it could happen,” he said.

US President Donald Trump reaches to shake Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s hand before a meeting at the Palace Hotel during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017, in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski)

The prime minister insisted that Iranian aggression was still the primary focus of the meeting, but acknowledged Trump’s “strong willingness to advance peace, and the issue of general reconciliation with the Arab word.”

In his meeting with Abbas two days later, Trump said, “We have a pretty good shot — maybe the best shot ever” at achieving peace in the entire Middle East.

Abbas in response said a peace agreement with Israel would be the “deal of the century,” and thanked Trump for the 20-plus meetings PA officials have held with US officials since he took office in January.

“This gives us the assurance and the confidence that we are on the verge of real peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Abbas said, speaking in Arabic.

Later, after their talks, the White House said Trump was “encouraged by the serious and constructive conversations among all parties” and that it would be “important throughout the talks for all parties to do everything possible to create an atmosphere conducive to making peace.” He said he was “personally committed to improving the economic opportunities available to the Palestinian people,” a White House statement said.

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