Trump Speaks With Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu

WASHINGTON (The Washington Post · ) -
File photo combination of U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. (Lucas Jackson/Ronen Zvulun/Reuters/File)

President Donald Trump spoke Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a brief conversation that Trump described as “very nice,” and Netanyahu called “very warm.”

Netanyahu, in a statement issued by his office, said Trump had invited him to visit the White House in February, although a final date was not yet set. They discussed the Iran nuclear deal, the “peace process with the Palestinians,” and other issues,” the Israeli leader said, adding that he had “expressed his desire to work closely . . . with no daylight between the United States and Israel.”

The White House provided no initial details of the call, which was scheduled to last 30 minutes. Trump characterized it to reporters gathered to witness the swearing in of his new White House staff.

Speaking at that event, Trump said that he would meet soon with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, both of whom he spoke with by telephone on Saturday. A Mexico meeting may come as early as the end of this month, White House officials said.

“We’re going to start renegotiating about NAFTA and immigration and security on the border,” Trump said. “Mexico has been terrific. . .I think we’re going to have a very good result.” NAFTA is the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump has said is unfair to the United States; both Trudeau and Pena Nieto have said they are willing to discuss its terms.

Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader, however, will come Friday, when he receives British Prime Minister Theresa May at the White House.

In a statement Sunday, May’s government said the meeting would “primarily be an opportunity to get to know one another and to establish the basis for a productive working relationship.” The statement said May would also address a weekend meeting of Republican lawmakers that Trump is also scheduled to attend.

May, who is struggling to implement her country’s vote to leave the European Union – is seeking a strong bilateral trade relationship with the United States as she prepares for EU negotiations.

Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu tweeted that “Stopping the Iranian threat, and the threat reflected in the bad nuclear agreement with Iran, continues to be a supreme goal of Israel.”

Netanyahu also met with his security cabinet on Sunday, telling them that he would allow continued construction of Jewish communities in eastern Yerushalayim, according to Israeli media accounts.

Those communities are considered illegal by most of the world. The Obama administration called them “illegitimate” and “obstacles to peace.” Israel disputed this.

On Sunday, Yerushalayim’s construction committee approved 566 housing units in eastern Yerushalayim communities.

Meanwhile, Yerushalayim Mayor Nir Barkat said that Trump was a “true friend” to Israel, referring to a reported statement by Trump press secretary Sean Spicer that the administration was at the “very beginning stages” of discussing a move of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim.

“We will offer them all the assistance necessary,” Barkat said in a statement. “The U.S. has sent a message to the world that it recognizes Yerushalayim as the united capital of Israel.”

While Congress long ago passed a resolution ordering the move, both Republican and Democratic presidents have repeatedly waived the order on national security grounds.

Trump pledged during his campaign to move the embassy, and his designated ambassador to Israel, New York bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, has called the move a “big priority” for the new administration.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Jordanian King Abdullah II on Sunday to discuss what to do if Trump makes good on the promised move. Jordan plays an important role in Yerushalayim as a caretaker of the holy Muslim sites in the eastern side of the city.

Abbas said in a statement after his meeting with the king, “We wish two things of the new American administration: First, to stop talks about moving the U.S. embassy to Yerushalayim; and second, to get involved in conducting serious negotiations between Palestine and Israel to reach a political solution which is for the best interest of Palestinians, Israelis and the whole region.”

In his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson called Israel “our most important ally in the region,” and criticized former president Barack Obama for undermining Israeli security, but did not directly address the embassy question.