U.S. President Donald Trump assailed Iranian aggression and military ambitions as he arrived in Israel Monday on his first visit to the Jewish state as the American leader.
“This moment in history calls us to strengthen our cooperation as both Israel and America face common threats from ISIS and other terrorist groups to countries like Iran that sponsor terrorism and fund and foment terrible violence—not only here—but all over the world,” Trump said. “Together we can work to end the scourge of violence that has taken so many lives here in Israel and around the world.
“Most importantly,” he added, “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. And it must cease—immediately.”
Trump spoke in Jerusalem alongside Israeli President Reuven Rivlin ahead of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and visits to important symbols of both the Jewish and Christian faiths.
The U.S. arrived in Israel after a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where Trump said King Salman assured him the Saudis want peace between the Israelis and Palestinians and roadblocks imposed against Iranian threats.
“There is a growing realization among your Arab neighbors that they have common cause with you in the threat posed by Iran and it is indeed a threat. there is no question about that,” Trump said.
In Tehran, newly re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Iran wants terrorism uprooted in the Middle East and says it is ready for interaction with its neighbors to restore peace in the region.
In his remarks, Rivlin, referring to the prospects of peace in the Middle East, yet fears about Iran, said, “We must be sure we don’t go to sleep with a dream and wake up with a nightmare.”
‘Rare opportunity’ for peace
At a welcoming ceremony at Ben-Gurion Airport Tel Aviv, Trump said there is now a “rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace” to the Middle East.
Netanyahu referenced Trump’s speech to Muslim leaders in Riyadh on Sunday on the need for a united fight against terrorism. The Israeli leader said his country shares the same commitment to peace and has its hand “extended in peace to all our neighbors, including the Palestinians.”
Trump has indicated a desire to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that broke down in 2014.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters traveling with the president that Trump “feels like there is a moment in time here” and an opportunity to advance the process.
“I think the president has indicated he’s willing to put his own personal efforts into this, if the Israelis and the Palestinian leadership are ready to be serious about engaging as well,” Tillerson said.
Trump’s schedule Monday includes a visit to the Western Wall, an important Jewish holy site, and a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where tradition says Jesus was crucified. On Tuesday, Trump has talks scheduled with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Trump said in March that an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is “maybe not as difficult as people have thought,” though he has not given any indication of how he might approach the issue differently. He has tasked his son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner with leading the effort for the White House.
Trump said during his campaign for president that the best way to negotiate an agreement is taking what he called an “objective” approach to the serious and extremely emotional issues keeping both sides apart. But he has said continued Israeli settlements do not help the peace process, and has backed off his promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Saudi Arabia visit
Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia was his first overseas stop as president.
He spoke at a gathering of dozens of Arab and Muslim leaders at a regional summit in Riyadh, telling them the U.S. wants a coalition of nations “who share the aim of stamping out extremism.
“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations,” Trump said. “This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it.”
Trump, who is seeking to impose a travel ban for people from six majority-Muslim countries, did not use the contentious phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” as he frequently has in speeches at home. Instead, he called on the Muslim leaders to honestly confront “the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires.”
Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report