Trump Lambasts Iran Again in Jerusalem, Signals Possible Arab-Israeli Rapprochement

US President Donald J. Trump (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shake hands during a press conference after their meeting in Jerusalem, 22 May 2017. Photo: Ariel Schalit/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • US President Donald Trump has lambasted Iran as a sponsor of terrorism with nuclear ambitions for a second day in a row, this time in Israel.
  • Trump has widely criticized the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal made by the Obama Administration.
  • He has vowed that Iran will never acquire nuclear weapons.
  • In the wake of his meetings with Arab and Muslim world leaders in Saudi Arabia, Trump has told Israel an Arab-Israeli rapprochement is possible if some progress is made in the Israeli-Palestinian talks.
  • Arab countries’ concerns over Iran would be part of the foundation for that rapprochement, Trump has argued.
  • Trump has said he has a feeling an Israeli-Palestinian deal will be achieved ‘eventually’.

US President Donald Trump has lambasted Iran once again, and has signaled the possibility of closer relations between Israel and Arab countries, during his visit in Israel, the second stop on his first trip abroad after Saudi Arabia.

On Sunday, Trump lambasted Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism and called for its isolation in a speech before the delegations of 37 Muslim nations at the opening session of the Gulf Cooperation Council summit (GCC) in Riyadh.

In the same speech in the Saudi capital Riyadh, he praised Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, and completely left out any potential criticism against them over human rights abuses.

Iran’s top foreign policy officials have responded by mocking the lack of democracy in Saudi Arabia, the US ally from whose capital Trump lambasted Tehran, and by accusing the United States of destabilizing the Middle East through its support of Israel, and not only.

The US President’s accusations against the Islamic Republic came a day after Iran’s incumbent President Hassan Rouhani won the country’s 2017 presidential elections, and vowed to continue his reformist course which has seen a timid rapprochement with the West.

They have been made regardless of the fact that Iran has been keeping the Iranian nuclear deal (known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), which was signed in July 2015 by Iran and six foreign powers (US, China, Russia, UK, France, and Germany, with the involvement of the EU) to ensure that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, and not for the development of nuclear weapons.

The Iranian nuclear deal – deemed a landmark achievement of the Obama Administration – has also been heavily criticized by some Republican members of the US Congress and by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

At the start of the Trump Administration in January and February, US relations with Iran worsened after the Islamic Republic carried out ballistic missiles tests, and new US sanctions against Iran were announced.

In April 2017, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed that Iran had been complying with the 2015 nuclear deal but said the Trump Administration was weighing whether to unilaterally break the terms of the deal.

US President Donald J. Trump (L) and his wife Melania (2nd L), and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his wife Sara (2nd R) stand after their meeting in Jerusalem, 22 May 2017. Photo: Ariel Schalit/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

‘Iran’s Rising Ambitions’

US President Donald Trump declared on Monday in Jerusalem that Iran must immediately stop its financial and military support for “terrorists and militas”, and that it should never be left to acquire nuclear weapons.

“The United States and Israel can declare with one voice that Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon – never, ever – and must cease its deadly funding, training and equipping of terrorists and militias, and it must cease immediately,” Trump said in public remarks at a meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, as cited by Reuters.

Regardless of the modest rapprochement with Iran over the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, the US continues to brand Iran a “state sponsor of terrorism” over Tehran’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Syrian Civil War, the Houthi rebels in Yemen’s civil war and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah political party and militia in Lebanon.

In his speech alongside Rivlin, Trump revealed he had felt encouraged by his conversations with Muslim world leaders in Saudi Arabia.

“Many expressed their resolve to help end terrorism and the spread of radicalization. Many Muslim nations have already taken steps to begin following through on this commitment,” he said.

“There is a growing realization among your Arab neighbors that they have common cause with you in the threat posed by Iran,” Trump told Israeli President Rivlin.

“These [Arab and Muslim] leaders voiced concerns we all share – about ISIS, about Iran’s rising ambitions and rolling back its gains, and about the menace of extremism that has spread through too many parts of the Muslim world,“ the US President added, as cited by Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

At the start of his working meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the King David Hotel, much of which was private, Trump spoke at length about the 2015 Iranian nucleal deal and lambasted his predecessor Barack Obama.

“Iran should be very grateful to the United States. Iran negotiated a fantastic deal with the previous administration … it is unbelievable,” Trump said.

“I think they would have totally failed within six months, we gave them a lifeline and we not only gave them a lifeline, we gave them wealth and prosperity. And we also gave them an ability to continue with terror … no matter where we go we see the signs of Iran in the Middle East,” he added.

“Instead of saying thank you to the United States, they now feel emboldened … it was a terrible, terrible thing for the United States to enter that deal. And believe me, Iran will never have a nuclear weapon, that I can tell you,“ Trump emphasized.

US President Donald Trump touches the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem’s Old City, 22 May 2017. Photo: Ronen Zvulun/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Possible Arab-Israeli Rapprochement

In his statements in Israel, US President Trump sent the message that the Arab countries would be willing to establish closer relations with Israel, should some progress be achieved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“I believe that a new level of partnership is possible and will happen – one that will bring greater safety to this region,“ Trump stated, as cited by Haaretz.

“This includes a renewed effort at peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and I thank the Prime Minister [Netanyahu] for his commitment to pursuing the peace process …. It’s not easy. I’ve heard it’s one of the toughest deals of all, but I have a feeling that we’re going to get there eventually, I hope,” the US President declared.

Earlier in May, upon welcoming Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Washington, D.C., Trump promised to do whatever was necessary for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, but without laying out a plan as to how that could be achieved.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in both his speech welcoming Trump at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday and his pre-dinner remarks that evening, voiced a willingness to cooperate with Trump in advancing a peace agreement.

However, Netanyahu made almost no mention of the Palestinians, focusing instead on the Arab states.

“I also look forward to working closely with you to advance peace in our region, because you have noted so succinctly that common dangers are turning former enemies into partners,” Netanyahu said in his pre-dinner remarks.

“And that’s where we see something new and potentially something very promising.

“It won’t be simple.  But for the first time in many years – and, Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime – I see a real hope for change. The Arab leaders who you met yesterday could help change the atmosphere, and they could help create the conditions for a realistic peace,” the Israeli Prime Minister stated.

On Tuesday, Trump is scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, and after that he will visit Yad Vashem and the Israel Museum, where he will deliver the keynote speech of his visit to Israel.

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