Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump will hold their first official meeting on February 15, White House spokesman Sean Spicer confirmed Monday. Spicer said the meeting would deal with strengthening strategic and intelligence cooperation between the two countries. Netanyahu announced Monday night that at the meeting he would ask Trump to increase sanctions against Iran, especially concerning its ballistic missile program.
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Netanyahu published a statement thanking Trump for the invitation, saying "it is my intention to discus with Trump cooperation between us on issues vital to the security and welfare of both nations."
Netanyahu is expected to return to Israel on February 17 and two days later, to head for Australia for a visit from February 19 to February 24. Senior Australian officials were concerned that the date of the Netanyahu-Trump meeting would lead to the cancellation of Netanyahu’s visit to Australia. Senior Australian officials told the Prime Minister’s Bureau in Jerusalem that Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin had canceled other visits at the last minute, and another cancellation would be viewed as an insult and would damage ties. Consequently, the Prime Minister's Bureau decided not to cancel the trip, but rather to shorten it and cancel a scheduled visit to Singapore on the way to Australia.
Netanyahu wants to use the meeting to coordinate policy on a variety of issues with Trump, first and foremost the Iranian threat. The two are also expected to discuss the civil war in Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“Our relationship with the only democracy in the Middle East is crucial to the security of both our nations,” Spicer said Monday.
Earlier, Netanyahu posted a video on his Facebook page accusing Iran of holding a ballistic missile test contrary to UN resolutions, and said he would bring up the matter in his meeting with Trump. Netanyahu was referring to a report by Fox News that the Iranians had conducted a mid-range missile test; the test failed and the missile exploded in mid-air.
“I will be meeting with President Trump in Washington soon and among other things I intend to raise with him the need to renew sanctions against Iran – sanctions against ballistic missiles and additional sanctions against terror, as well as dealing with this whole weak nuclear agreement. I know this agreement bothers not only Israel and not only the United States but many other countries in the region as well and we will move this ahead because Iran’s aggression must not go unanswered,” Netanyahu said.
Another issue expected to come up in the Trump-Netanyahu meeting is moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump is expected to meet at the White House with King Abdullah II of Jordan on Tuesday and discuss the matter with him. The king’s bureau said that Abdullah will emphasize to Trump at their meeting to need to avoid steps that could impair the legal or historical standing of Jerusalem and also the need to move ahead in the peace process, because this has direct impact on stability in the region. The Jordanian king met on Monday with Vice President Mike Pence.
The White House said they discussed “the king's views on potential changes involving the U.S. Embassy in Israel and how best to make progress towards a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.”
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network on Monday, Trump said Monday that he would make a decision on moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem “in the not-too-distant future.” Trump said that the issue of Jerusalem has “two sides” and he and his staff are “studying it very long and hard,” because “it’s a very big decision, because every president for the last number of presidents, they’ve come in and they were going to do it, and then all of sudden they decided they don’t want to get involved.”
“It’s a big, big decision but we’re studying the issue right now; I’ve always liked the concept of doing it, I will tell you that, and I’ll have a decision in the not-too-distant future,” Trump said.
When interviewer David Brody asked Trump whether the chances of the embassy moving were good, the president that "there’s certainly a chance of that, absolutely.” Trump added that "we’re doing very detailed studies on that and we’ll come out very soon. I hate to do that because that’s not usually me – studies – usually I do what’s right. But this has two sides to it, it’s not easy, and I’ll make a decision in the not-too-distant future.”
The interview with Trump was recorded on Saturday but only broadcast on the night between Sunday and Monday. This was Trump’s most detailed statement since his election and move to the White House on the possibility of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
In an interview with Fox News on Friday, Trump evaded a direct answer to the question, saying: “I don’t want to talk about it yet; it’s too early.”