Trump pushes for Mideast peace, but avoids thorny details

Gershom  GPO via Getty Images

American President Donald Trump's choice of Saudi Arabia as the first country to visit - early in his tenure - is understandable.

Mr Netanyahu added that US-Israeli intelligence co-operation is "terrific".

Salman also pledged that the US and Saudi Arabia will advance to the "level of strengthening consultations, cooperation and coordination on all fronts".

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 he's pushing to work harder toward peace with the Palestinians.

A longtime businessman, Trump has cast Middle East peace as the "ultimate deal" and has tasked son-in-law Jared Kushner and former real estate lawyer Jason Greenblatt with charting a course forward. He had also vowed to ban Muslims from entering the US and, upon becoming President, actually issued an executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from coming to the country.

Mauricio Guerra, a Mexican tourist, was shocked to find he and his family wouldn't be able to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be the site of Jesus's crucifixion and burial, because of Mr Trump. Wearing a black skull cap, he became the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, the most holy site at which Jews can pray.

But Trump may face concerns from Israelis over the new $110 billion arms deal he announced during his previous stop in Saudi Arabia as well as questions from Israeli officials about revelations that he disclosed sensitive Israeli intelligence to Russian officials.

Tillerson's candid assessment, made to reporters aboard Air Force One Monday, represents a remarkable turnaround for a presidential candidate who campaigned on a platform that argued for "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States".

White House aides have also tried to play down expectations for significant progress on the peace process during Mr Trump's stop, casting the visit as symbolic.

Mr Tillerson referred to the visit as "a moment in time" and suggested that the United States would take a more active role in the future in brokering a deal if both sides make serious commitments. But for so many Muslim countries to quietly listen as the man who wants to ban Muslims from coming to the U.S. lectured them about their supposed faults and problems represented an abject surrender.

And on Tuesday, he is set to head to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas before returning to Jerusalem to lay a wreath at the Yad Vashem, a Holocaust memorial, and deliver a speech at the Israeli Museum. "Know that while there is a technical need to conduct missile tests, we will do so and we will ask the permission of no one". "There is a moment in time here", he told reporters travelling with Mr Trump, but the USA wants to "manage our ambitions" on this trip. We believe you're willing. Although the USA has long bankrolled the Saudis and been one of the largest suppliers of weaponry to the kingdom, the alliance had been strained by the USA nuclear deal with Iran.

Still, Monday's flight seems to have made a little bit of history. Yuval Steinitz, a senior Cabinet minister and Netanyahu confidant, called Saudi Arabia "a hostile country" and said the deal was "definitely something that should trouble us". He has taken a tougher line on settlements than Israeli officials had expected, urging restraint though not calling for a full halt to construction. After a campaign filled with stridently pro-Israel statements and a pledge to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Mr Trump has moderated his Israel support since taking office, urging Mr Netanyahu to limit settlement construction.

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