Iran at top of agenda as PM be­gins week of di­plo­macy in NYC

Ne­tanyahu ends Latin Amer­ica visit in Mex­ico, where he lauds ‘great friend­ship’

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONT PAGE - • By HERB KEINON Jerusalem Post Cor­re­spon­dent

NEW YORK – The threat posed by Iran is ex­pected to be a ma­jor fo­cus of Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s speech to the UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly on Tues­day, as well as a top pri­or­ity in his talks Mon­day with US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Ne­tanyahu ad­vised re­porters ac­com­pa­ny­ing him on his trip to wait un­til af­ter his meet­ing with the pres­i­dent be­fore draw­ing con­clu­sions re­gard­ing the US pol­icy to­ward the Is­lamic Repub­lic.

While Thurs­day’s de­ci­sion in Wash­ing­ton to ex­tend sanc­tions re­lief as man­dated by the 2015 nu­clear agree­ment in­di­cates that Trump has no im­me­di­ate in­ten­tion to carry out his cam­paign pledge and scut­tle the ac­cord, the US is tak­ing a much firmer stand than be­fore re­gard­ing Tehran’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gram and over­all desta­bi­liza­tion of the re­gion.

Ne­tanyahu said dur­ing his trip to Latin Amer­ica that Is­rael’s po­si­tion re­mains the same: ei­ther change the agree­ment or scrap it.

The diplo­matic process with the Pales­tini­ans will also fea­ture promi­nently in the pre­mier’s meet­ing with Trump, who also is ex­pected to meet with Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas this week.

Is­raeli diplo­matic of­fi­cials ac­com­pa­ny­ing the prime min­is­ter dis­cussed a “diplo­matic war of at­tri­tion” the Pales­tini­ans were wag­ing, not­ing that their de­ci­sion not to push for­ward last week with their bid to join the World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion came fol­low­ing in­ten­sive US pres­sure, and that they will now ask for some­thing in re­turn.

As Ne­tanyahu read­ies for his meet­ing with Trump, one se­nior diplo­matic of­fi­cial said that while he is in­ter­ested in an agree­ment with Ab­bas, he does not see one any­where on the hori­zon.

Af­ter four days in Ar­gentina, Colom­bia and Mex­ico where the Pales­tinian is­sue did not fea­ture ei­ther in the public dec­la­ra­tions of the three pres­i­dents Ne­tanyahu met or in their pri­vate meet­ings, that sit­u­a­tion is ex­pected to change dra­mat­i­cally in New York.

Shortly be­fore Ne­tanyahu landed in New York on Fri­day, the Is­raeli Con­sulate re­opened af­ter a pack­age con­tain­ing white pow­der and an English-lan­guage threat to the prime min­is­ter was de­liv­ered there ear­lier in the day.

The Is­raeli Con­sulate was closed and sealed shut as in­spec­tions were made and the staff was or­dered to re­main in­doors un­til the re­open­ing.

The prime min­is­ter flew to New York af­ter a day in Mex­ico City where he met with Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto and said the diplo­matic is­sue would not have been raised in that meet­ing had he not done so him­self.

“I raised the Pales­tinian is­sue,” he said in a brief­ing with re­porters, ex­plain­ing that he then gave a brief talk to Peña Ni­eto and al­most half

his cabi­net at the meet­ing on how nei­ther the con­flict with the Pales­tini­ans nor the set­tle­ments were at the heart of the prob­lems plagu­ing the Mid­dle East.

Had he not raised the mat­ter, he said, it would not have even come up.

Wrap­ping up his visit to Latin Amer­ica, Ne­tanyahu said the fact that the pres­i­dents of three im­por­tant coun­tries pub­licly em­braced Is­rael is a sign of the Jewish state’s ris­ing stature in the re­gion and the world.

“The lead­ers them­selves are the best seis­mo­graphs,” Ne­tanyahu told re­porters af­ter a four-hour meet­ing with Peña Ni­eto at the Los Pi­nos pres­i­den­tial res­i­dence in Mex­ico City on Thurs­day. “They un­der­stand that not only does the public not have a prob­lem with their public em­brace of Is­rael, but it has ben­e­fits. There is a lot of sym­pa­thy [for Is­rael],” he said.

Ne­tanyahu, who char­ac­ter­ized Is­rael’s re­la­tion­ship with Mex­ico as a “great friend­ship,” said he was not sur­prised by the warmth of his re­cep­tion in Latin Amer­ica. What did sur­prise him, he said, was the lack of protest and crit­i­cism in the me­dia, es­pe­cially be­cause he was warned be­fore­hand that Is­rael has a prob­lem in Latin Amer­ica.

“Maybe in Venezuela,” he quipped, but not in the coun­tries he vis­ited.

A tweet Ne­tanyahu posted in Jan­uary that was in­ter­preted as sup­port for Trump’s de­sire to build a wall with Mex­ico and in­fu­ri­ated the Mex­i­can govern­ment and the Jewish com­mu­nity did not come up when the prime min­is­ter and Peña Ni­eto held a press con­fer­ence, with one se­nior Is­raeli diplo­matic say­ing the two coun­tries have “turned the page” on the is­sue.

It also did not pre­vent hun­dreds of mem­bers of the 45,000-strong Jewish com­mu­nity from giv­ing Ne­tanyahu a rous­ing ova­tion when he spoke Thurs­day at the lo­cal Jewish cen­ter.

Fol­low­ing his meet­ing with Ne­tanyahu, Peña Ni­eto thanked the Jewish com­mu­nity for its “valu­able con­tri­bu­tions to the eco­nomic, so­cial and cul­tural de­vel­op­ment of the coun­try.”

He also said that its mem­bers were an im­por­tant source of em­ploy­ment for the coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to Jewish com­mu­nity fig­ures, Jews com­prise 0.35% of the Mex­i­can pop­u­la­tion, but pro­vide 10% of the coun­try’s jobs.

Dur­ing the lead­ers’ meet­ing, the two sides agreed to up­grade and mod­ern­ize the free-trade agree­ment be­tween their coun­tries, which is out­dated and does not pro­vide any pro­vi­sions for new de­vel­op­ments such as e-trade.

They also signed agree­ments gov­ern­ing co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the coun­tries’ space pro­grams, and in tourism, avi­a­tion and in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment.

Peña Ni­eto asked Is­rael to be­come in­volved in de­vel­op­ment pro­grams in Hon­duras, Gu­atemala and El Sal­vador, in what is called Cen­tral Amer­ica’s North­ern Tri­an­gle. Mex­ico and the US are co­op­er­at­ing in pro­vid­ing de­vel­op­ment aid there in an ef­fort to sta­bi­lize their economies and pre­vent mi­gra­tion north­ward.

Dur­ing his state­ment along­side Peña Ni­eto, Ne­tanyahu apol­o­gized for this be­ing the first time an Is­raeli prime min­is­ter ever vis­ited the coun­try, say­ing it was “an un­par­don­able lapse, but we want par­don.”

Ne­tanyahu said this visit cor­rected that “his­toric lapse be­cause Mex­ico is a great coun­try. It’s one of the world’s great economies, it’s a great na­tion, a great peo­ple, a great cul­ture. We want to be close, even closer to Mex­ico, and this is what this meet­ing sig­ni­fies.” •

(Avi Ohayon/GPO)

PRIME MIN­IS­TER Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and his wife, Sara, board a plane to New York in Mex­ico City on Fri­day.

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