In London, Netanyahu and Johnson Talk Iran and Two-state Solution

'Both prime ministers agreed on the need to prevent Iran getting a nuclear weapon and stop wider destabilizing Iranian behavior,' says a Downing Street spokeswoman

Netanyahu and Johnson outside No 10 Downing Street, London, September 5, 2019.
Alastair Grant/AP

LONDON - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London on Thursday, two weeks before Israel's election, and the two discussed Iran and a two-state solution.

During the brief half-hour meeting between the two leaders, Johnson and Netanyahu agreed on the need to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, Downing Street said.

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"Both prime ministers agreed on the need to prevent Iran getting a nuclear weapon and stop wider destabilizing Iranian behavior. The Prime Minister stressed the need for dialogue and a diplomatic solution," a Downing Street spokeswoman said.

Johnson also said he looked forward to seeing the United States' proposals for a viable Israel-Palestinian peace agreement, the spokeswoman said. 

Netanyahu also thanked his British counterpart for his steadfast support for Israel.

"Boris, it's always a pleasure to see you, but especially now in your role as prime minister," Netanyahu told Johnson upon his arrival at 10 Downing Street.

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"I want to say that you've been a great friend of the Jewish people and Israel. I applaud your staunch stance against anti-Semitism and your support for Israel's security. Our relations are at an all-time high: economically, trade, technology, defense cooperation. These are all great things. 

"We have the challenge of Iran's aggression and terrorism, and I'd like to talk to you about how we can work together to counter these things for the benefit of peace," Netanyahu said. 

"The U.K. still supports all efforts to reach a solution in the Middle East, and a two-state solution," replied Johnson. "I want to talk about that too," Netanyahu answered.

"It's not that we lack challenges. We have the challenge of Iran's aggression and terrorism, and I'd like to talk to you about how we can work together to counter these things for the benefit of peace. And I want to thank you for this opportunity to do so," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu also met with U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper later in the day. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is also in London for a meeting with Johnson.

With Esper, Netanyahu was expected to talk about Israel's security needs, but the two gave no statements at the end of the meeting. The prime minister and Esper held a telephone conversation on Tuesday, in which they agreed to lengthen the discussion in London. 

This is Netanyahu's first meeting with both Johnson and Esper since they manned their new positions respectively, as well as a first meeting with a leader from the Middle East for Johnson and Esper in their new roles.

Netanyahu is now meeting with British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace. National Security Council chief Meir Ben Shabbat, commander of the Israel Air Force Maj. General Amikam Norkin, and commander of the operations directorate Aharon Haliva are also in attendance.   

Before departing for London, Netanyahu expressed his opposition to renewal of talks between world powers and Iran in order to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal: "It’s not the time for discussions with Iran, it’s time for pressure."

On Wednesday, Johnson looked for new ways to bring about a national election after rebellious British lawmakers rejected his call to trigger a snap poll and moved to block his plan to leave the European Union next month without a divorce deal. It was the embattled leader's third Parliamentary defeat in two days and evidence that scarcely six weeks after taking office with a vow to break Britain's Brexit deadlock, Johnson's plans to lead the U.K, out of the EU are in crisis.

U.S. President Donald Trump said overnight Wednesday that he is leaving the door open to a possible meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rohani at the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York. 

When asked by reporters about the possibility of meeting the Iranian leader at the United Nations, Trump told White House reporters anything was possible. "Sure, anything's possible. They would like to be able to solve their problem," he said, referring to inflation in Iran. "We could solve it in 24 hours."

Earlier, Rohani announced that Iran's next step in its nuclear program involves the development of centrifuges.

"We will take all necessary steps to protect the Iranian nation's rights and interests ... Our third step [to scale back Iran's commitment to a 2015 nuclear deal] involves the development of centrifuges. We will take this step on Friday," he said, without elaborating. 

The country is allowed to test no more than 30 of the stronger, IR-6 centrifuges once the deal has been in place for 8 1/2 years. The deal is murky about limits before that point, which will arrive in 2023.

India visit cancelled

News of Netanyahu's intended diplomatic trip to Britain come a day after the prime minister nixed a visit to India, which was scheduled to take place a week before Israel heads to the polls. Netanyahu's bureau explained that the trip was cancelled due to "schedule constraints." 

On Monday, Haaretz reported on Netanyahu efforts to engineer a dramatic diplomatic gesture from the Trump administration in order to help him win on September 17.

In recent weeks, there have been intensive talks between some of Netanyahu’s advisers and people close to U.S. President Donald Trump over a potential statement by the American president, in which he could commit to protecting Israel in the future from any existential threat.

Netanyahu is also trying to orchestrate some form of gesture from Russian President Vladimir Putin — either in the form of an official Putin visit to Israel or a trilateral meeting of the national security advisers of Israel, Russia and the United States. This would be similar to a meeting that took place in Israel in June.

Jonathan Lis and Reuters contributed to this report