We must ‘address terrible nuclear deal’ with Iran, Netanyahu tells Trump

PM bashes Tehran in joint appearance with US president, who chooses to focus on the Palestinians, saying there’s ‘a good chance’ for peace

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

NEW YORK — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ahead of talks here Monday with Donald Trump, urged the US president to address the “terrible” nuclear deal with Iran and called on the world to confront Tehran’s conventional aggression in the region.

Trump, meanwhile, barely mentioned Iran at their joint appearance, instead reiterating his desire to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and telling the visiting Netanyahu there was a “good chance” such an accord could happen.

“We’re going to be discussing many things, among them peace between the Palestinians and Israel,” Trump told reporters while sitting alongside Netanyahu in the New York Palace Hotel. “It would be a fantastic achievement. We’re giving it an absolute go. I think there’s a good chance that it could happen.”

Added Trump: “I really think we have a chance. I think Israel would like to see it and I think the Palestinians would like to see it. And I can tell you that the Trump administration would like to see it. So we’re working very hard on it; we’ll see what happens. Historically, people say it can’t happen. I say it can happen.”

Netanyahu, speaking after Trump, opened his remarks by thanking the president for strengthening the US-Israel alliance, and then moved on to attacking the Iran deal, which the president had said earlier in the day the US may back out of next month.

US President Donald Trump (r) meets with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on the eve of the UN General Assembly on September 18, 2017. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

“I look forward to discussing with you how we can address together what you rightly call a terrible nuclear deal with Iran, and how to roll back Iran’s growing aggression in the region, especially in Syria,” Netanyahu said, without elaborating whether he wanted the deal canceled or amended, before briefly touching on the peace process.

“As you said, we will discuss the ways we can seize the opportunity for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and the Arab world. I think these things go together,” the prime minister said.

Netanyahu went on to say that Washington’s position toward Israel at the UN had never been better than under Trump. “It’s been strong, it’s got both clarity and conviction, and I want to thank you on behalf of the people of Israel and Israel’s friends around the world — thank you, Mr. President,” he said.

Earlier, as members of the press were ushered into the joint appearance and numerous cameras clicked, Netanyahu whispered to Trump, “This is called a feeding frenzy.”

After their public remarks, reporters shouted at Trump questions about the Iran deal and his position on the two-state solution. Reluctant to answer, he said, presumably in reference to Iran, “You’ll see very soon.”

On the Palestinian question, he would only say, “We’re talking about it a lot.”

US President Donald Trump speaks to the press alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (not pictured) 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)

Earlier on Monday, Trump warned that the US will quit the Iran deal if the UN’s atomic energy agency shows “weakness” in monitoring it. If the International Atomic Energy Agency does not require and obtain access to Iranian military sites suspected of hosting illicit nuclear activity, “we will not accept a weakly enforced or inadequately monitored deal,” Trump said in a statement to the watchdog’s annual meeting in Vienna.

After meeting with Netanyahu, Trump was scheduled to sit down with French President Emmanuel Macron. Over the course of the coming week, he is set to participate in approximately 20 meetings with world leaders and other events.

Later on Monday, Netanyahu was scheduled to hold a series of meetings with world leaders at the UN, including with the president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela; the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe; and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven had sought a meeting as well, but Netanyahu refused, likely because Israel is still angry over Stockholm’s 2014 recognition of a Palestinian state, though Israeli officials on Saturday cited scheduling difficulties.

On Tuesday morning, the prime minister is expected to attend Trump’s first address to the UN. A few hours later, at around 1:30 p.m. local time, he will give his own speech, which is expected to focus on Iran and be shorter than in previous years, Israeli sources said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press alongside US President Donald Trump (not pictured) 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)

In his speech, Netanyahu will for the first time directly address Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the sources said. According to Hebrew media reports, the prime minister will say a few words in Persian.

Speaking to reporters on Friday at his hotel in New York after wrapping up a trip to Latin America, Netanyahu said that the main message of his UN speech would be that “Israel will not tolerate an Iranian military presence on our northern borders. An [Iranian] military presence endangers not just us, but also our Arab neighbors.”

Netanyahu has repeatedly warned against Iran’s military ambitions in the area, Tehran’s bid to establish a territorial “corridor” all the way to the Mediterranean, and a Iran’s growing presence in Syria, including in areas abutting Israel’s border.

After his speech Tuesday, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Brazilian President Michel Temer, before heading to the airport to arrive in Israel in time for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, which starts Wednesday evening.

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