Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon, says Trump in meeting with Israeli president

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive aboard Air Force One at Ben Gurion International Airport.
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive aboard Air Force One at Ben Gurion International Airport.PHOTO: REUTERS

TEL AVIV (AFP, Reuters, Bloomberg, Washington Post, Xinhua) - US President Donald Trump said on Monday (May 22) during a visit to Jerusalem that Iran must never be allowed to have nuclear weapons while also denouncing Teheran’s support for “terrorists”.

“Most importantly, the United States and Israel can declare with one voice that Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon – never ever – and must cease its deadly funding, training and equipping of terrorists and militias,” Trump said in remarks at Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s residence.

“And it must cease immediately,” he added.

“What happened in Iran has turned other parts of the Middle East toward Israel,” Trump said, noting that these countries “were not feeling so well toward Israel not long ago". 

He said there is a “great feeling” for peace in the Middle East, and that “people have had enough of the bloodshed and the killing". 

Rivlin echoed the hope for peace. “We are praying for peace and pushing for peace for the past 100 years,” he said.

Trump landed in Israel on Monday (May 22) as part of his first foreign trip since taking office, with the goal of seeking ways to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Air Force One landed in Tel Aviv at around 12.25pm local time.

Trump spoke of a “rare opportunity” to bring stability to the region as he landed in Israel. He also hailed the “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel as he spoke at a brief ceremony at the airport in Tel Aviv after landing.

“On my first trip overseas as president, I have come to this sacred and ancient land to reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and the state of Israel,” Trump said.

He said later: “We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people, defeating terrorism and creating a future of harmony, prosperity and peace. But we can only get there working together. There is no other way.”

Mr Trump was due to hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later in the day and travel to the occupied West Bank on Tuesday (May 23) to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Netanyahu said on Monday he hoped Trump's visit would be a “historic milestone” in achieving regional peace.

“May your first trip to our region prove to be a historic milestone on the path towards reconciliation and peace,” Netanyahu said in a welcome speech to Trump.

He said Israel shared the United States’ commitment to peace and that, “Israel’s hand is extended in peace to all our neighbors, including the Palestinians."

Trump and Netanyahu exhibited a friendly, casual rapport, exchanging banter as they walked the carpet with their wives.

“Welcome, our good friend,” Netanyahu said as Trump stepped off the airplane. “Hello, my friend,” Trump replied.

“What is the protocol?” the visiting president inquired. “Who knows,” Netanyahu said. “I think they’ll just tell us where to stand.”

Following their remarks, Netanyahu introduced Trump to members of his Cabinet. The president could be overheard boasting about Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. “My Supreme Court judge, that was a good one,” Trump told one Israeli official.

The president also repeatedly invoked his daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner. Both orthodox Jews, they serve as senior advisers in the White House and have had a leading role in orchestrating the president’s Middle East visits.

Trump assured one of Netayahu’s ministers: “You’ll like Ivanka.”

Air Force One’s trip here from Riyadh is believed to be the first direct flight between the two countries, a reflection of the long Arab-Israeli estrangement that Trump hopes to fix.

“Mr President, you just flew from Riyadh to Tel Aviv,” Netanyahu said. “I hope that one day an Israeli prime minister be able to fly from Tel Aviv to Riyadh.”

Although other presidents have landed here from Arab capitals that have no diplomatic relations with Israel, none has come from Saudi Arabia before.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Trump was prepared to invest his personal efforts into Middle East peace if Israeli and Palestinian leaders were ready to be serious about engaging in the process.

Tillerson, speaking to reporters on Air Force One, said a three-way meeting between US, Israeli and Palestinian leaders was for a “later date” rather than on this trip.

Tillerson also said: “I don’t think there’s been a time in for quote some time where all of the nations – the Arab nations, Israel, the United States – we’re all facing this common threat… the rise of terrorist organisations, the export of extreme views, extremism, is a threat to all of us.”

“That is unifying… I think that creates a different dynamic,” Tillerson said.

Asked if Trump would pressure Israel on settlements, Tillerson said, “You know, settlements are part of the overall peace discussion,” and one of “a number of elements that have presented challenges to the peace process in the past".

Tillerson finessed a question about whether he agreed with Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, who said over the weekend that the wall was part of Israel.

“The wall is part of Jerusalem,” he said.

While public statements on the peace process and the status of Jerusalem may dominate headlines, behind the scenes Netanyahu will ask the US president to impose new sanctions on Iran for threatening the Jewish state with ballistic missiles and sponsoring terrorism, a close adviser said.

In Israel, Trump will meet with President Reuven Rivlin when he gets to Jerusalem before touring Christian and Jewish holy sites in the contested Old City. He’ll meet Netanyahu at the King David Hotel in the afternoon, and the two will dine with their wives at the prime minister’s compound in Jerusalem. More than 10,000 police officers, border police, special patrol units and undercover units have been deployed to secure the visit, Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

On Tuesday, Trump will cross for a few hours into Palestinian-held territory in Bethlehem, where he will meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Back in Israel, he’ll briefly tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and deliver a speech at the Israel Museum – expected to be his longest public remarks during the visit – before departing for the Vatican.