U.S. President Donald Trump departed the White House late on Wednesday on his way to Davos, Switzerland, where he will attend the World Economic Forum. Trump's meetings at the gathering of the world's business and political elite, which he will be attending for the first time as president, will focus to a large extent on recent developments in the Middle East, and on the pending decisions his administration has to make regarding Iran, Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
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On Thursday, Trump will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will also be in Davos. This will be the fourth meeting between the two since Trump took office last January. They are expected to discuss Trump's promise to "fix" the nuclear deal with Iran or reinstate sanctions against the Islamic Republic in case the international agreement cannot be amended.
The two are also expected to discuss the Trump administration's efforts to restart peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Ever since Trump's historic announcement in December and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, efforts – already deeply strained - have entered a "cooling off period." The Palestinian leadership, enraged over Trump's announcement, said they will no longer accept the Trump administration as a mediator, and will only agree to hold negotiations with Israel in the context of broader international involvement.
The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the future capital of their state. That tradiionally Arab section of the city, was annexed by Israel during 1967 during the Six-Day War and for decades U.S. policy was that its final status should be decided only during peace talks between the sides.
Trump and Netanyahu are also planning to discuss developments in Syria, including the government's recent strategic achievements and Turkey's military campaign against the Kurds. The meeting is scheduled to take place just 72 hours after Netanyahu met in Jerusalem with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who promised that the United States would move its embassy in Israel in Tel Aviv to an existing consular office in Jerusalem by the end of 2019.
The only other bilateral meeting with a world leader that Trump is scheduled to have on Thursday is a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May. Britain under May's leadership has voiced its disagreement with two of Trump's most prominent recent decisions in the Middle East: his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and his plan to change the terms of the nuclear deal with Iran or withdraw from it.
The Iranian issue is expected to be an important part of the Trump-May meeting, and could potentially also come up in a dinner that Trump will hold with a number of European business leaders on Thursday evening, since many leading European companies have expanded their business activities in Iran since the signing of the nuclear deal in 2015, and could face difficulties if the deal were to be cancelled.
Trump announced two weeks ago that while he is extending sanctions relief on Iran as required by the nuclear deal, it will be the "last time" that he is taking that step, unless certain "loopholes" that his administration sees in the deal will be fixed. Among those loopholes is the "sunset clause" that puts a time limit on certain limitations placed on Iran by the deal. European leaders have expressed concerns that trying to re-negotiate the terms of the agreement, something Iran has stated is unacceptable, could lead to its collapse.
Before departing from Washington Wednesday, Trump spoke on the phone with Turkish President Recep Erdogan and asked him to show restraint in northwestern Syria, where Turkey has opened a military operation against Syrian-Kurdish forces aligned with the United States. The phone call was the first time that Trump himself became involved in the Turkish-Kurdish crisis, the most recent chapter of which began last weekend.
According to a readout of the conversation distributed by the White House, Trump "urged Turkey to de-escalate, limit its military actions, and avoid civilian casualties and increases to displaced persons and refugees," and also to "exercise caution and to avoid any actions that might risk conflict between Turkish and American forces." If the situation along the Turkish-Syrian border escalates over the next 48 hours, it will likely become a larger part of Trump's agenda while he is in Davos.
On Friday, Trump is scheduled to give a speech before the forum, before heading back to Washington. His speech will focus not only on security and diplomatic issues, but also on business opportunities for international companies in the United States, and on the tax reform recently passed by the U.S. Congress.