President Donald Trump still intends to abandon the Iran nuclear deal unless it is “fixed,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday.
Warning that “darkness is descending” on the Middle East as Iran works to build an “aggressive empire,” Netanyahu told a Washington audience that neither Israel nor the US will accept a nuclear Tehran and that Trump will counter Iran in the region.
“We will never let Iran develop nuclear weapons. Not now, not in 10 years, not ever,” Netanyahu said in a speech at the annual gathering of the American Israel Political Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel group focused on strengthening the country’s relationship with the US.
“Trump has made it clear that his administration will not accept Iran’s aggression in the region,” the Israeli prime minister said. “The President has also made it clear that the flaws of the nuclear deal are not fixed, he will walk away from the deal and restore sanctions.”
Netanyahu delivered his speech at a time when he is under extraordinary political pressure at home because of corruption probes and the news, Monday, that a close aide has agreed to cooperate with the police.
A Monday meeting at the White House with Trump, who faces an FBI probe into his campaign’s connections to Russia, gave both embattled leaders a chance to change the subject, bolster each other and boast of the strength of the bilateral relationship.
Hailing their “beautiful alliance,” Netanyahu told the AIPAC audience that Israel will be by the Americans’ side on Iran and other issues.
Trump and Netanyahu, known popularly as “Bibi,” met for two and a half hours Monday, and addressed reporters in the Oval Office. The traditional news conference held with foreign leaders was left off the schedule. The focus, aides said, was largely on Iran.
In his remarks to AIPAC, Netanyahu warned that Tehran, which has come to the aid of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is “seeking to build permanent military bases in Syria” and expand its presence into Iraq, Gaza and Yemen, with more to come.
“Most in our region know that Israel is not their enemy, but their ally,” said Netanyahu. “This is true of Egypt and Jordan, but also true for many other Arab countries in the Middle East.”
Trump and Netanyahu had to tackle a wide agenda of issues, including the ongoing civil war in Syria and related upheaval across the Middle East, a push by Saudi Arabia to acquire nuclear weapons and Russia’s presence in the region.
The two leaders also have to wrestle with the eternal issue of Middle East peace. Trump has upended the traditional US approach to the Mideast peace process by taking stances that are seen as staunchly pro-Israel and that critics say have forfeited Washington’s role as a neutral arbiter of peace talks.
Netanyahu said Tuesday that “Israel remains committed to achieving peace with all our neighbors, including the Palestinians,” adding, “Trump has made it clear he’s committed to peace.”
But the Israeli leader avoided any language that reaffirmed the principle of two states for two peoples, a reference to the state that Palestinians seek alongside Israel.
Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move considered best left to the final phases of peace talks because the holy city’s status is so contested: both Palestinians and Israelis claim it as their national seat.
Trump has also announced he’ll move the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, where other countries base their diplomats until a peace agreement is reached. Administration officials say the moves simply reflect reality.
Palestinians have announced they will no longer take part in negotiations mediated by the US.
Monday in the Oval Office, Trump said the embassy move was “a decision I had to make. Many presidents were discussing whether or not to make that decision, and they promised it in their campaigns, but they never were able to do what they should have done. So I was able to do it, and I think it’s something that’s very much appreciated in Israel.”
The State Department announced recently that the embassy move would formally take effect on May 14, a far speedier timeline than originally expected.
Before leaving Israel, Netanyahu left open the possibility of Trump traveling to Jerusalem for the ribbon-cutting, and Trump said on Monday he “may” travel there.
“We’re looking at coming,” Trump said. “If I can, I will.”
CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report