By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason
JERUSALEM U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday that shared concern about Iran was driving Israel and many Arab states closer and demanded that Tehran immediately cease military and financial backing of "terrorists and militias".In stressing threats from Iran, Trump echoed a theme laid out during weekend meetings in Saudi Arabia with Muslim leaders from around the world, many wary of the Islamic Republic's growing regional influence and financial muscle.Trump, who spoke after arriving in Israel on what is thought to be the first direct flight there from Saudi Arabia, has also vowed to do whatever is necessary to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He has dubbed this "the ultimate deal" but in the run-up to his Holy Land visit, he gave little indication of how he could revive negotiations that collapsed in 2014.He focused firmly on Iran in talks with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem on the first day of his two-day trip, pledging he would never let Tehran acquire nuclear arms and saying the deal struck with Tehran by the Obama administration needed fixing."What's happened with Iran has brought many of the parts of the Middle East toward Israel," Trump said in public remarks at a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.Trump received a warm welcome in Riyadh from Arab leaders, especially over his tough line on Tehran, which many Sunni Muslim Arab states regard as seeking regional control. In his comments to both Rivlin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump appeared to dwell on forging a regional coalition to counter what he described as Shi'ite Muslim Iran's involvement in conflicts in the region, rather than renewed efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks."No matter where we go, we see the signs of Iran," Trump said in comments to Netanyahu, mentioning its growing influence in conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, where it is either backing Shi'ite fighters or has sent its own forces.Israel shares the antipathy many Arab states have towards Iran, seeing the Islamic Republic as a threat to its existence.
Trump, who is on his maiden foreign trip since taking office in January, urged Iran to cease "its deadly funding, training and equipping of terrorists and militias".IRAN SAYS IT'S WASHINGTON THAT SUPPORTS TERRORISM
Iran's freshly re-elected, pragmatist president, Hassan Rouhani, said regional stability could not be achieved without Iranian help, and accused Washington of supporting terrorism with its backing for rebels in Syria.He said the summit in Saudi Arabia "had no political value, and will bear no results".
"Who can say the region will experience total stability without Iran? Who fought against the terrorists? It was Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Syria. But who funded the terrorists?"Rouhani noted the contrast between young Iranians dancing in the streets to mark the re-election of a leader seeking detente with the West, and images of Trump meeting with a galaxy of Arab autocrats, some of whose countries have spawned the Sunni militants hostile to Washington and Tehran alike. "Americans resorted to many different methods against Iran but failed in all...," Rouhani said. "The problem is that the Americans do not know our region and those who advise U.S. officials are misleading them." He also said Iran would continue a ballistic missile programme that has already triggered U.S. sanctions, saying it was for defensive purposes only.Trump's foreign tour comes in the shadow of difficulties at home, where he is struggling to contain a scandal after firing James Comey as FBI director nearly two weeks ago. The trip ends on Saturday after visits to the Vatican, Brussels and Sicily.
Meeting Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Trump said Iran felt "emboldened" by the international nuclear deal, promoted by Obama, that it signed in 2015 under which it agreed to limit its atomic programme in return for sanctions relief."We gave them a lifeline and we not only gave them a lifeline, we gave them wealth and prosperity and we also gave them the ability to continue with terror with all the things they can do, because no matter where we go, we see the signs of Iran in the Middle East," Trump said.Iran has repeatedly denied an intent to build atomic bombs.At a welcoming ceremony at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion airport, Trump said that in recent days he had found new reasons to hope that Middle East peace and stability could be achieved."We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and 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," he said.Later, Trump toured the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's walled Old City and became the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest place where Israel allows Jews to pray in a city sacred to three religions.Trump will have visited significant centres of Islam, Judaism and Christianity by the end of his trip, a point that his aides say bolsters his argument that the fight against Islamist militancy is a battle between "good and evil". (Writing by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Mark Heinrich)
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Updated Date: May 23, 2017 00:01:45 IST