While Under Scrutiny, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Visits White House

Mar 5, 2018
Originally published on March 5, 2018 7:51 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


All right, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is here in Washington today. He's meeting with President Trump. Before their meeting, their fifth so far, Netanyahu thanked Trump for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: We remember 70 years ago, President Harry S. Truman was the first leader to recognize the Jewish state. And we remember how a few weeks ago, President Donald J. Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Mr. President, this will be remembered by our people throughout the ages.

KELLY: But Palestinians, who also have a claim to that city, have said they want someone besides the U.S. to lead peace efforts now. Netanyahu's trip here comes as he is facing mounting corruption investigations back home. And here to get us up to speed on all of that is NPR's Daniel Estrin. He's traveled here with the prime minister from Jerusalem, and he joins me now. Hey, Daniel.


KELLY: So do we know what the president and prime minister talked about when they got together today?

ESTRIN: Yes. Netanyahu just briefed the group of reporters traveling with him. He told us the central issue in their meeting was, quote, "Iran, Iran and Iran." He said about half...

KELLY: (Laughter).

ESTRIN: Yeah, half of their discussion focused on Iran, you know, because President Trump faces a deadline in May whether to continue to waive sanctions on Iran. And if the U.S. renews sanctions, that would mean that the U.S. would effectively pull out of the nuclear agreement. So Netanyahu said Trump asked him his opinion about it, and he said very clearly to Trump, fully fix or fully nix the agreement.

The Palestinians also came up in their discussion. Netanyahu said he has made his position clear. He doesn't want to govern the Palestinians, but he said that Israel should have overriding security control of the West Bank under any agreement with the Palestinians. And that does not meet the Palestinians' demand. They will not accept any Israeli security presence in a Palestinian state.

KELLY: All right, so as we watch and wait to see if the Iran deal will be fully fixed or fully nixed, let me ask you a Jared Kushner question because Jared Kushner's been the White House lead on trying to restart peace talks. But he's had a challenging last few days. He had his security clearance lowered. Did he meet with Netanyahu today?

ESTRIN: Yeah, well, Netanyahu said - he told us that Kushner was not present during a more limited meeting with limited staff, but then he was at a working lunch that the two leaders had. I asked Netanyahu about a Washington Post report that Israel was among four countries that look to take advantage of Kushner's inexperience, looking for potential leverage with him. For instance, Kushner's family companies have taken loans from Israeli banks. Netanyahu replied, we didn't say a word about that in our meeting. And he wouldn't comment further.

KELLY: And meanwhile, catch us up to speed on these allegations against Netanyahu back home. There's this corruption investigation underway. Israeli media say one of his former aides has agreed to help the police. We should say there are no charges at this point. But just walk us through the allegations.

ESTRIN: Well, there are two cases that the police have recommended for prosecution. The attorney general - you know, that will take months for him to decide whether to file charges. The cases involve accepting gifts from wealthy bankers, other things, other backroom deals. Netanyahu was very curt about this today. He didn't want to get into it with reporters. He said the investigations did not come up during his meeting with Trump.

KELLY: And briefly, Daniel, what else does Netanyahu have on his plate here in the States?

ESTRIN: He's talking to the pro-Israel group AIPAC tomorrow morning. He's been very upbeat on this trip, I have to say. And analysts say that he often gets a boost back home when he's seen in the U.S. talking with, you know, Trump.

KELLY: All right, that's NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting. Thanks, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.