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Trump pays historic visit to Western Wall

May 22, 2017

US President Donald Trump expressed optimism about Middle East peace prospects as he visited Israel on his first foreign trip since taking office. Trump arrived fresh from inking a 12-figure arms deal with Saudi Arabia.

Israel US-Präsident Donald Trump Besuch der Klagemauer in Jerusalem
Image: Reuters/J. Ernst

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday hailed their countries' friendship and reiterated their commitment to working with Arab leaders to bring an end to violence in the region, with a special emphasis on the threat they say is posed by Tehran.

Trump emphasized the enduring friendship between the US and Israel while also complimenting the leaders he met during his previous stop-over in Saudi Arabia.

"We can truly achieve a more peaceful future for this region and for people of all faiths and all beliefs and frankly all over the world," Trump said.

Israel Donald Trump & Benjamin Netanjahu
Trump and Netanyahu spoke to reporters before their meeting in JerusalemImage: Reuters/J. Ernst

The US president also expressed optimism that peace could be achieved between Israelis and Palestinians, while acknowledging the challenge of achieving such a deal. "I've heard is one of the toughest deals of all," he said.

Speaking before Trump, Netanyahu warned of Iran's "unbridled ambition to become a nuclear state" while also expressing his optimism over what he called "a real hope for change" in the Middle East.

First for a US president

Prior to his address alongside Netanyahu, Trump visited two of Jerusalem's most famous holy sites on Monday, part of his first overseas trip after being elected last November.

Trump first visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, supposedly built on the site where Jesus Christ was buried and then resurrected, before paying a visit to the Western Wall. He is the first sitting US president to visit the latter site.

Prior to the trip, Trump's administration drew controversy by declining to say whether it belonged to Israel.

Donald Trump  Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem
Trump with Israeli President Reuven RivlinImage: Reuters/J.Ernst

Trump addresses Israeli-Palestinian divide

Earlier, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin told Trump that Israel was honored to welcome a partner in both business and peace.

"We created a miracle, a technological miracle, a human miracle, and, even during our most difficult times, we never gave up," Rivlin said, describing Israel's seven-decade expansion. However, he said, "we have not yet achieved our mission of living in peace with our neighbors: the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world."

Trump has vowed to do whatever he can to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but has given few specifics as to how he intends to revive long-stalled negotiations.

"Thank you very much and shalom," Trump told Rivlin. "I am honored to be in the great state of Israel," a nation whose "friendship" will "always be No. 1 to me."

After his meeting with the president, Trump, who flew to Israel directly from Saudi Arabia, said he felt Muslim leaders were equally intent on putting an end to religious extremism and stop "the threat posed by Iran."

'We love Israel'

Air Force One landed in Tel Aviv at about 12:25 p.m. local time (0925 UTC) on Monday.

"We love Israel," Trump said in prepared remarks delivered on the tarmac. "We respect Israel." Speaking, he said, for the American people and addressing the alliance between the nations, he added: "We are with you, thank you and god bless you, thank you."

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Netanyahu noted that Trump's choosing to visit Israel so early in his presidency was another of the US chief executive's unprecedented decisions. "Your visit here is truly historic," Netanyahu said, addressing Trump. "Never before has a first foreign trip of a president of the United States included a visit to Israel." He added that the country was eager to show off its successes after a more mutually skeptical relationship with Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama: "We've built a modern, vibrant, democratic and Jewish state."

"May your trip be a milestone on the path to peace," Netanyahu said.

Trump and his wife, Melania, were welcomed by Netanyahu, his wife, Sara, and President Rivlin and his wife, Nechama. "Your visit is a symbol of the unbreakable bond between Israel and America," Rivlin said. "You are the president of Israel's greatest, most important ally. You are a true friend of Israel and of the Jewish people."  

Later, Rivlin addressed an emotional speech Trump had made to the leaders of several predominantly Sunni nations on Sunday in which he called on them to join forces with the United States in opposing Iran's meddling in regional conflicts. After Trump told Israel's president that Iran had brought many Middle Eastern nations in some way closer to Israel's point of view, Rivlin said: "Every challenge creates an opportunity." 

Trump defends intelligence sharing

During a press conference alongside Netanyahu, Trump attempted to defend himself from accusations that he shared highly sensitive Israeli intelligence with Russian officials earlier in the month. Responding to a reporter on the subject, Trump said, "I never mentioned the word or the name Israel." 

He then went on to chastise the media for reporting otherwise - even though media outlets did not report that he had said that during his meeting with the Russians.

Anonymous White House officials confirmed to several media outlets in the wake of that scandal that the intelligence had indeed come from Israel.

Trump will travel to the occupied West Bank on Tuesday to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

mkg,blc/se (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)