Netanyahu: Trump Administration Wants to Fix Iran Nuclear Deal

After meeting with the U.S. president, Netanyahu says U.S. also knows 'this agreement is terrible'; PM says no progress made toward renewing talks with Palestinians

U.S. President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu meet in New York, Sep 18, 2017.
U.S. President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu meet in New York, Sep 18, 2017. Evan Vucci/AP

NEW YORK – The U.S. Administration wants to amend the nuclear deal with Iran, and Israel has proposed a way of doing so, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.

Netanyahu was speaking at a briefing for reporters following his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump earlier in the day.

“The American establishment has changed its approach toward Iran,” Netanyahu said. “We’re in agreement with the Americans that this agreement is terrible. There’s a clear American interest, which was conveyed to me explicitly, about the desire to fix the problems in the agreement.

Netanyahu said the main provision that needs to be amended is the agreement’s sunset clause, which imposes an expiration date on all restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program.

“I said in the past that the biggest problem I see isn’t if Iran violates the agreement, but if it upholds it,” he said. “Then they’ll soon have access to uranium enrichment on an industrial scale for an arsenal of atom bombs. That’s the biggest problem with the agreement.”

Asked about the fact that most senior administration officials, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor Herbert McMaster, oppose an American withdrawal from the agreement, Netanyahu replied, “In my opinion, there are some in the U.S. Administration who support canceling the agreement and some who oppose it. I expressed my position in the clearest possible way – that the agreement must either be changed or scrapped, because if it’s not changed, it will lead to a nuclear Iran. I’d prefer that the agreement not contain things that endanger us.

“The president’s starting point regarding Iran is identical to ours,” he continued. “That wasn’t the case in the previous administration. Like us, this president sees Iran as the root of the Middle East’s problems.”

Netanyahu also said Trump has a “strong desire” to promote both the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Israeli reconciliation with the broader Arab world. But he said that despite the prominence Trump gave this issue during a press event at the start of their meeting, the president’s speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday will deal more with the Iranian issue.

Trump’s aides are still trying to bring about progress that would allow Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to resume, but so far, no such progress has occurred, Netanyahu added.

“The president didn’t get into the details of the issues,” Netanyahu said. “He hopes there will be progress with the Palestinians, and he’s assigned this task primarily to his team.

“I share the desire to reach peace with the Palestinians, but I’m uncompromising on our vital interests, first and foremost security,” he added.

The Prime Minister declined to respond as to whether he is still committed to the statements he made in his speech at Bar-Ilan University in July of 2009 regarding his support for "creating a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish nation-state."

Netanyahu stressed that over the years, he made it clear that Israel will maintain security control in the West Bank, even within the framework of a peace agreement. "There will not be peace if we cannot ensure our security," said Netanyahu. "I don't want to get into the details of the solution. I haven't changed my position regarding the Bar-Ilan speech. My position was clearly stated. Who will demilitarize [the Palestinians]? We will."

The Prime Minister said that he brought up his concerns to Trump regarding the post-civil war solution in Syria. Netanyahu stressed that the Israeli opposition to Iranian influence in Syria includes all of the country's territory, and is not limited to certain boundaries.

"They intend on bringing forces... to all of Syria, and I will warn them too: we will not sit idly by," said Netanyahu. "We are talking about all of Syria. Our opposition [to Iranian presence] extends past specific boundaries. It's true that there are Iranian commanders and soldiers who we have not acted against. We have only taken action when we saw immediate threats to our borders, and this was the case up to two or three months ago. Now there is a change due to the fact that the Islamic State has been pushed back. Iranian presence in Syria is systematic, including both economically and militarily, with Shi’ite forces and clear intentions to destroy Israel and infiltrate the Middle East. It's important to nip this development in the bud.”