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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Saturday, October 21, 2017

Prior to their respective addresses on Tuesday at the annual UN General Assembly, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump huddled for private talks on a number of pressing topics at New York City’s Palace Hotel on Monday, September 18th.  

Appearing together to deliver brief and introductory comments for the media before the start of their pre-scheduled meeting, Trump said: "Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a friend of mine for many years. We are going to talk about many important things, including the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. We think there is a good chance that this will happen. I think Israel wants peace, and that the Palestinians want to see it."

"With the capability of Netanyahu and frankly the other side the Palestinians, I really think we have a chance," Trump added.

Middle East peace has long been one of the US' most elusive foreign policy goals, and shortly after coming to power Trump assigned his son-in-law Jared Kushner and former business associate Jason Greenblatt with finding a way to secure the "ultimate" deal by getting the two sides back to the negotiating table.

"History tells us that this is impossible - in my opinion it is possible," the president added, according to an INN report.

Trump did not mention Iran at all in his remarks prior to the meeting until asked by reporters. The Iranian threat was expected to be the main focus of Prime Minister Netanyahu's concerns during their meeting.

Netanyahu told Trump: “Under your leadership, the alliance between America and Israel has never been stronger and never been deeper.” He continued by saying, "Under President Trump, America’s position toward Israel at the UN has been unequivocal, it’s been strong, it’s got both clarity and conviction.”

His focus, however, was clearly on Iran, according to an i24 News report.

 “I look forward to discussing with you how we can address together what you rightly call the terrible nuclear deal with Iran and how to roll back Iran’s growing aggression in the region, especially in Syria,” the prime minister added.

Netanyahu, who famously brandished a diagram at the 2012 UN General Assembly showing how close the Islamic Republic was getting to nuclear weapons capability, used his face time with Trump and is expected to use his address at the gathering of world leaders on Tuesday to take aim at Iran.

During their closed-door meeting, Netanyahu reportedly presented Trump with a proposal for quitting or significantly amending the deal which offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbing its nuclear program.

I24 News reported that Trump, when asked by reporters whether he has decided to revoke US participation in the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, said "you'll see very soon."

On Sunday evening in New York City, Ha’Aretz reported that Netanyahu also held a personal meeting with Ronald Lauder, the long time president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) who has advised President Trump on the peace process between Israel and her Palestinian neighbors. According to the Ha’Aretz report, Netanyahu also met with the leaders of a number of Jewish American organizations which marked the first such meeting to take place since the Israeli government's decision earlier this summer to scrap a plan for establishing a permanent egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Three sources with knowledge of the discussion in New York told Haaretz on Sunday night that the meeting has been "good" and "positive," and described the prime minister's approach as "forthcoming."

The Times of Israel reported that later in the afternoon on Monday, Netanyahu met with the president of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela; the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe; and Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the UN.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven had sought a meeting as well, but Netanyahu refused, likely because Israel is still angry over Stockholm’s 2014 recognition of a Palestinian state, though Israeli officials on Saturday cited scheduling difficulties.

Also on Monday, President Trump told the United Nations nuclear watchdog on Monday in a message read out by his Energy Secretary Rick Perry that the United States will pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear accord if it is not sufficiently monitored.

As the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano repeated that Iran was subject to the "world's most robust nuclear verification scheme," as the Iranian nuclear chief hit back fiercely at Washington's criticism of the deal, urging the IAEA to resist "unacceptable demands".

Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal is set to be a flashpoint at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York this week, with Trump and a slew of senior advisers taking aim at Iran, while European signatories express confidence in the accord.

France's foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned that salvaging the Iran nuclear deal was "essential" to prevent other countries from seeking nuclear weapons. 

"It's essential to maintain the agreement to prevent a spiral of proliferation that would encourage hardliners in Iran to pursue nuclear weapons," Le Drian said, according to an i24 News report.

The foreign minister said scrapping the 2015 nuclear deal would launch an arms race with "neighboring countries that would feel encouraged to head into the same direction."

At an IAEA meeting in Vienna on Monday, i24 News reported that Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said that "the American administration's overtly hostile attitude and actual foot-dragging policies and measures aimed at undermining the nuclear deal... are contrary to the letter and spirit" of the agreement, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

He hit out at the US envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, for making a "host of unjustifiable, peculiar demands" in talks with IAEA chief Amano in Vienna last month.

These reportedly included that the IAEA inspect military sites in Iran, something which officials in Tehran have rejected.

Reading out a message from Trump, Perry told the Vienna meeting that Washington would "not accept a weakly enforced or inadequately monitored deal".

But Haley's demands are "far beyond the purview of the JCPOA and its collectively negotiated and well-defined provisions," Salehi said, according to the i24 News report.

"We remain confident that the UN atomic agency, and for that matter the director general, will resist such unacceptable demands," Salehi told the International Atomic Energy Agency's annual meeting of member states.

Netanyahu has vigorously opposed the deal from the outset. Several unnamed Israeli officials told Haaretz newspaper on Sunday that the IAEA ignored intelligence from a Western "entity" which indicated suspicious activity at some sites in Iran.

Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal is set to be a flashpoint at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York this week, with Trump and a slew of senior advisers taking aim at Iran, while European signatories express confidence in the accord.

Netanyahu told reporters at his New York hotel on Friday evening that “the central message of the UNGA speech will be that Israel will not tolerate an Iranian military presence on our northern borders, which endangers not just us, but also our Arab neighbors,” as was reported by the Times of Israel. 

I24 News reported that in recent weeks Netanyahu, along with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz have consistently raised the specter of Iran's military designs on the south of war-torn Syria, including in a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin.  

"While their conversations will be wide-ranging, we expect that Iran's destabilizing behavior, including its violation of the sovereignty of nations across the Middle East, to be a major focus," Trump's national security adviser HR McMaster said in a press briefing on Friday, referring also to Trump's mooted meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron. 

Israel fears that Iran will use the power vacuum in war-torn Syria and strong Russian influence to establish military bases in Syria with the aim of opening up a second front against Israel in the event of a war with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia.

Netanyahu has said Israel will "do something" about the establishment of military infrastructure. 

On Friday, Haaretz newspaper reported that Russia had rejected an Israeli demand that a ceasefire brokered in July covering southwestern Syria include a 60-80 kilometer buffer zone where Iranian military activity would be prohibited. An Israeli official reportedly denied the report. (INN, i24 News& Ha’Aretz)

In a related development, i24 News reported on Monday that a second envelope containing a suspicious substance was received at the Israeli consulate in New York City during Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit to the city for the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli media outlets reported.

The envelope was received hours after Netanyahu wrapped up a closed-door meeting with United States President Donald Trump at the city's Palace Hotel.

It is the second suspicious package received at the consulate in three days.

On Friday, an envelope containing white powder and a threat against the Israeli leader was discovered, prompting the building to be evacuated. The threatening letter was reportedly written in English.

The mission is located on Second Avenue in Manhattan, just minutes walk from the United Nations headquarters where both Netanyahu and Trump are scheduled to deliver an address before the General Assembly on Tuesday.

By:  Walter Metuth