White House: Trump, Netanyahu discussed countering Iran’s ‘malign influence’

US administration says Israeli-Palestinian peace process was also raised in NY meeting, as well as ‘optimism in the region’ about future peace deal

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

WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday discussed efforts to counter “Iran’s malign influence” in the Middle East, as well as “optimism in the region” about Israeli-Palestinian peace, according to a White House readout of their New York meeting.

The two leaders talked about their “continuing efforts to achieve an enduring Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, the optimism in the region about peace, and expanding economic opportunities to improve conditions for peace,” the statement said.

The White House statement pledged to safeguard US and Israeli security interests with regard to Iran and Syria. Israel has repeatedly expressed concern that Iran, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, was bolstering its military presence on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

“The two sides discussed their continued cooperation across a range of issues and stressed their goals of countering Iran’s malign influence in the region and resolving the Syria crisis in a manner consistent with American and Israeli security interests.”

It did not mention anything on the Iran nuclear deal, however, a major theme as Trump has signaled in recent weeks that he may certify in October that Tehran is not complying with the 2015 nuclear accord reached under the stewardship of his predecessor, Barack Obama.

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)

Netanyahu, for his part, briefed reporters after their meeting that he presented Trump with a plan to “fix” the nuclear deal, and that the US president is willing to do so.

Netanyahu told reporters the two leaders also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, stressing, however, that the lion’s share of the meeting dealt with other topics. “I agreed with his willingness to reach peace with the Palestinians, and I insist on our vital national interests, including security,” he said.

“He has a strong willingness to advance peace, and the issue of general reconciliation with the Arab word,” the prime minister went on, referring to Trump.

Asked if the president had made any requests of him on the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu replied: “He didn’t get into details. He really wants to see progress. He mainly tasked his team with this — Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman, these are excellent people. We’re making every effort. Besides that, there is not much to report.”

Asked what his “endgame” was for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu said: “Peace and security, security and peace — they’re connected. There won’t be peace without Israel having ironclad security arrangements. An agreement without security arrangements would last exactly two hours.”

A senior administration official told The Times of Israel over the weekend that Washington’s push to renew negotiations and attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be “mostly separate” from conversations this week at the annual UN confab. But the issue remains, the official insisted, among the highest priorities for the president.

This year’s UN General Assembly is the first with Trump as president.

Trump and Netanyahu will address the gathering on Tuesday.

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