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White House says Trump and Netanyahu agree on need to counter Iran's 'malign influence'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces reporters before a meeting with President Trump. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces reporters before a meeting with President Trump. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump, meeting in New York on Monday, discussed the two leaders’ shared aim of “countering Iran’s malign influence in the region,” the White House said.

Trump and Netanyahu have previously bonded over mistrust toward Iran. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump denounced the landmark 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and six world powers as a terrible deal. Netanyahu had lobbied vehemently against the agreement, irritating the then-Obama administration by using a speech to both houses of Congress to make his case.

But Trump has softened his stance somewhat since taking office. Over the summer, his administration grudgingly declared that Tehran was in technical compliance with the accord, but that determination must be made every three months and is next due in mid-October.

Netanyahu took an upbeat tone in a post-meeting tweet. “Was great meeting with you today,” he told Trump on Twitter. “Together we are bringing the US-Israel alliance to even greater heights.”

The White House said the two sides "discussed their continued cooperation across a range of issues and stressed their goals of countering Iran’s malign influence in the region and resolving the Syria crisis in a manner consistent with American and Israeli security interests."

Without giving details, the statement said the two "also discussed their continuing efforts to achieve an enduring Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, the optimism in the region about peace, and expanding economic opportunities to improve conditions for peace."

Those hopes for a regional buy-in for the peace process are in line with the U.S. position when Trump traveled to Israel in May and met with Netanyahu, but Israel's Arab neighbors are very unlikely to sign on to a renewed peace effort that does not include concrete steps such as a halt to Jewish settlement-building.  

Little pressure toward that end appears forthcoming from Washington. The White House statement said the president had promised Netanyahu to shield Israel against “unfair treatment” at the United Nations, which has repeatedly denounced settlement expansion.

As president-elect, Trump had expressed outrage in December when the outgoing Obama administration declined to exercise its veto power to block a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a halt to Israel’s settlement activity on Palestinian lands.

Later in the week, Trump is to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The two had a less-than-cordial encounter during Trump's visit to the region in May.

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