Questions about Russia chase Trump during first visit to Israel
JERUSALEM — U.S. President Donald Trump solemnly placed a note in the ancient stones of Jerusalem’s Western Wall on Monday, sending a signal of solidarity to an ally that he’s pushing to work harder toward peace with the Palestinians.
But his historic gesture — and his enthusiastic embrace of Israel’s leader — were shadowed even here by reminders of Trump’s tumult back home
In this second stop on his maiden foreign trip, Trump unexpectedly offered a new defence of his disclosure of classified information to Russian diplomats in a recent Oval Office meeting. Standing alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he argued he never mentioned Israel, the source of the classified intelligence, according to various officials — something he has not been accused of doing.
“I never mentioned the word or the name Israel,” he told reporters. “So you have another story wrong.”
The moment was departure from an otherwise warm and smooth welcome for Trump to the Holy Land. After years of butting heads with Trump’s predecessor, Netanyahu celebrated a new president’s arrival as a moment of hope in the stalled peace talks between Israel and Palestinians. Trump, arriving from Saudi Arabia, declared he saw the possibility of new alignment of Muslim nations and Israel against a shared foe — Iran.
“There is a growing realization among your Arab neighbours that they have common cause with you in the threat posed by Iran,” he said, at a welcome meeting.
“I also look forward to working closely with you to advance peace in our region, because you have noted so succinctly that common dangers are turning former enemies into partners. It won’t be simple. But for the first time in many years — and, Mr. President, for the first time in my lifetime — I see a real hope for change.”
Trump travels to Bethlehem Tuesday to visit with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. He’ll later to lay a wreath at the Yad Vashem, a Holocaust memorial, and deliver a speech at the Israeli Museum.
The president did step into another fraught subject: his recent disclosure of classified information to Russian diplomats, seemingly violating an intelligence-sharing agreement with Israel.
Netanyahu played it down, saying that U.S.-Israeli intelligence cooperation is “terrific,” while attempting to dismiss concerns that the incident violated a confidentiality agreement. But it was another stark reminder for the president that his troubles at home have followed him across the ocean.
Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu downplayed any controversy over allegations the U.S. president disclosed classified intelligence with Russian diplomats.