Visiting Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu sought the U.K.’s support for harsher sanctions on Iran over its recent missile tests, trying to build momentum for such penalties before he meets with President Donald Trump next week.
“I’d like to talk to you on how we can ensure that Iran’s aggression does not go unanswered,” Netanyahu said to U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May at a media appearance in London. Characterizing Iran as a menace to the entire world, he welcomed Trump’s imposition of new sanctions following the first missile launch, adding, “I think other nations should follow soon, certainly responsible nations.”
May said only that the two leaders would discuss Iran. The Israeli premier has been invited to visit the White House on Feb. 15, and had said his discussions with British leaders would focus on how to work with Trump to confront the Islamic Republic.
Having failed to block the 2015 nuclear deal, which eased sanctions on Iran after it curbed its nuclear program, Netanyahu is trying to drum up international support for a harder line against Tehran now that Trump has taken office. The U.S. president, who said during the election campaign that he would scrap or renegotiate the “disastrous” pact, imposed new penalties on Iran on Friday, warning that it was “playing with fire.”
Yet although Trump talked tough, the sanctions appeared to be an extension of the Obama administration’s restricted penalties for missile activity. Iranian officials hit back with bellicose language of their own, but their Foreign Ministry tempered it by saying the “threatening” tone shouldn’t lead to a rush to judgment about the new U.S. government.
While the missile tests didn’t contravene the nuclear accord signed in 2015, they are seen by some nations as going against a U.N. Security Council resolution that enshrines the agreement.
Asked after his meeting with May whether he expects the Trump administration to reopen the nuclear accord, Netanyahu told reporters that the world “needs to find the right response to this aggressive behavior.”
He said he and May see “eye to eye concerning the danger of Iran’s aggression,” and that they talked about the need to get tougher on Iran. He wouldn’t characterize her stance further.
Efforts to resurrect Middle East peace efforts were also on the agenda in London. In her remarks before meeting with Netanyahu, May reaffirmed the U.K.’s commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling it “the best way to bring peace for the future.”
May’s administration has repeatedly criticized Israel over its settlement activity in territories Palestinians claim for a state, with the Foreign Office issuing statements critical of new construction plans announced after Trump’s inauguration. It also voted on behalf of the United Nations Security Council resolution in December that deemed settlements a “flagrant violation” of international law.
Even so, the U.K. premier in December defended Netanyahu’s coalition government in the face of criticism from then-Secretary of State, John Kerry, who had called it the “most right-wing” administration in Israel’s history. “We do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally,” May’s office said at the time.
Israel has seen Trump as more tolerant of its settlement policies, and following his Jan. 20 inauguration it announced plans to build more than 6,000 new apartments in the West Bank. After days of silence on the plans, the administration issued a statement last week saying settlements aren’t an obstacle to peace but further building “may not be helpful” to achieving peace.
Netanyahu said in his media briefing that he told the White House he expects the Israeli parliament to approve a controversial bill retroactively legalizing settler outposts whose construction wasn’t officially authorized but was generally known to officials. A vote was expected overnight.
“We do not surprise our friends and we keep them updated,” he said. He planned to return to Israel in time to vote for the proposed legislation, he said.
(c) 2017, Bloomberg · Jonathan Ferziger, Alex Morales