UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to abandon his opposition to a planned meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani on Thursday after urging world powers not to open a dialogue with the Islamic Republic.
Netanyahu, who confirmed earlier on Thursday that the time was not right for talks with Iran, acknowledged the possibility of meeting Trump with Rouhani and said he could not decide who Trump was meeting.
“I am sure that Trump will take a tougher stance,” a Netanyahu office official said. The prime minister told reporters traveling with him on his trip to London.
His comments were more cautious than his earlier statement on Thursday as he met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he said: “This is not the time for talks with Iran. It is a time of increased pressure.”
Netanyahu’s comments reflected a rare public dispute between the right-wing Israeli prime minister and the US president over Iran’s nuclear program. Netanyahu has previously advised France not to approach Iran.
Trump on Wednesday left open the possibility of a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. They will want to solve their problem.”
Netanyahu, who fights for his political future in a September 17 election, usually bet his influence on Western leaders, especially rightists like Trump and Johnson, is crucial to Israel’s security. His opponents say his closeness to right-wing figures abroad hurts Israel because it makes its support a partisan issue in friendly countries.
Netanyahu later met with US Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
Tehran rejects any negotiations with Washington until Trump lifts sanctions imposed after he quits the 2015 nuclear deal, which Netanyahu has opposed as inappropriate.
Iran said on Friday it would start developing centrifuges to speed up uranium enrichment, which could produce fuel for power plants or atomic bombs. Iran denies seeking to build such bombs.
The centrifuges step will be the latest in several steps Iran has taken to reduce its obligations under its 2015 nuclear deal.
Netanyahu described this as “another violation and provocation by Iran, this time in the pursuit of nuclear weapons”.
During his meeting with Johnson at the British government headquarters, Netanyahu praised the British leader, who is in a political battle “for his steadfast attitude towards anti-Semitism and … his support for Israel’s security.”
A spokeswoman for Downing Street’s prime minister’s office later said the two leaders “agreed that Iran should be prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon and stop its destabilizing behavior on a larger scale.” Johnson stressed “the need for dialogue and a diplomatic solution”.
Like other European parties to the nuclear deal, Britain has expressed concern about the US withdrawal. Despite Johnson’s public sympathy for Israel, Johnson wants to preserve the vision of a Palestinian state, which has receded sharply under Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has also served as defense minister over the past 10 months, a period of intensified military operations against Iranian targets in the region. He was accompanied on his visit to London by the Air Force Commander and Chief Military Planner for his meeting with Esber.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Ynet television that Netanyahu and Esber would discuss “everything that is happening in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.”
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