Benjamin Netanyahu teams up with Trump on Iran

President Trump spoke by phone over the weekend with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about confronting Iran’s hostile interference throughout the Middle East, the White House said Sunday.

“The two leaders discussed the continuing threats and challenges facing the Middle East region, especially the problems posed by the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities,” the White House said in a statement.

Mr. Netanyahu is one of the only international leaders to back Mr. Trump’s proposal to exit the Iran nuclear deal. Mr. Trump has set a May 12 deadline to decide the fate of the Obama-era agreement that was supposed to halt Iran’s nuclear weapon development until 2025 in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.

The president’s call preceded Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit Sunday with Mr. Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.

Iran must be stopped, its quest for a nuclear bomb must be stopped, its aggression must be stopped and we’re committed to stopping it together,” Mr. Netanyahu said after a nearly two-hour meeting with Mr. Pompeo.

Mr. Pompeo is on his first foreign trip since being confirmed last week as the new secretary of state.

“We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats to Israel and the region and Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East remains,” he said in Tel Aviv. “The United States is with Israel in this fight.”

Mr. Trump was urged to stay in the Iran deal during separate White House visits by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Both leaders agreed that more curbs were needed on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, missile development and support of terrorism throughout the Middle East. But they want to keep the current Iran deal, which their countries helped negotiate, as a foundation for new measures.

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U.S. concerned by ‘destabilizing and malign activities’ of Iran: Pompeo

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – The United States is deeply concerned by Iran’s “destabilizing and malign activities”, new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday.

Pompeo was speaking on a flying visit to the region, where he had earlier met with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh and stressed the need for unity among Gulf allies as Washington aims to muster support for new sanctions against Iran.

The whirlwind trip to NATO in Brussels and to Middle East allies came only hours after Pompeo was confirmed as Trump’s top diplomat. He has not even visited his own office yet, he told Netanyahu.

Speaking alongside the Israeli leader, Pompeo said in Tel Aviv: “We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats towards Israel and the region.”

He added: “Strong cooperation with close allies like (Israel) is critical to our efforts to counter Iran’s destabilizing and malign activities through the Middle East, and indeed, throughout the world.”

Pompeo also said that the relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem, a move set to take place on May 14, was “recognising (the) reality” of “Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the seat of its government.”

Netanyahu echoed Pompeo’s focus on Iran, stressing the closeness of U.S. and Israeli cooperation on the issue.

“I think the greatest threat to the world and to our two countries, and to all countries, is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons, and specifically the attempt of Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. We have had a very productive talk today on this subject,” he said.

In Saudi Arabia earlier, Pompeo said that the U.S. would abandon the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, reached under President Donald Trump’s predecessor, unless talks with European partners yield improvements to ensure the Islamic Republic never possesses nuclear weapons.

“Iran destabilises this entire region. It supports proxy militias and terrorist groups. It is an arms dealer to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. It supports the murderous Assad regime (in Syria) as well,” he said in joint remarks with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

“Gulf unity is necessary and we need to achieve it.”

Pompeo also addressed the rift between Qatar and its neighbours, telling reporters after leaving Riyadh: “We are hopeful that they will, in their own way, figure out how to remove the dispute between them.”

Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, cut off travel and trade ties with Qatar last June, accusing it of supporting terrorism and Iran.

Doha has denied the accusations and has said its three fellow Gulf countries aim to curtail its sovereignty. Iran denies supporting terrorism or having sought to develop nuclear weapons.

The United States, which has military bases in both Qatar and some of the countries lined up against it, is trying to mediate the Qatar feud. Trump publicly sided with the Saudis and Emiratis early in the crisis, but is now pushing for a resolution to maintain a united front against Iran.

Yemen’s armed Iranian-aligned Houthi movement has fired over 100 missiles into Saudi Arabia, the latest salvo killing a man on Saturday in the southern Saudi province of Jizan.

The United States and the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 accuse Iran of providing the missiles to its Houthi allies, which Tehran denies.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a meeting at the Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv, Israel, April 29, 2018. Thomas Coex/Pool via Reuters

NUCLEAR DEAL

Pompeo’s trip comes as Trump considers whether or not to abandon a self-imposed May 12 deadline for the Iran nuclear deal he sees as deeply flawed.

He has called on Gulf allies to contribute funding and troops to stabilise areas in Iraq and Syria where a U.S.-led coalition has largely defeated Islamic State jihadists.

Earlier this month, Jubeir said Saudi Arabia would be prepared to send troops into Syria under the U.S.-led coalition if a decision is taken to widen it.

Asked about Saudi troops on the ground in Syria, Pompeo said: “We will sit down and talk about… how to best make sure that this is not America alone working on this, it’s the Gulf states working alongside us.”

On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani waved aside U.S. and European discussions over changes to the nuclear accord and dismissed Trump as a “tradesman” who lacked the qualifications to deal with a complex international pact.

“We’ve certainly made some (progress with the Europeans),” Pompeo said on Sunday. “There is still work to do. They said, ‘Great, we will support you if you get the fixes’.”

Britain said on Sunday that it, France and Germany – the other signatories to the 2015 Iran deal along with Russia, China and the European Union – agreed that the accord was the best way of stopping Tehran from gaining nuclear weapons.

“(We) committed to continue working closely together and with the U.S. on how to tackle the range of challenges that Iran poses – including those issues that a new deal might cover,” a statement from British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said.

The 2015 agreement limited Iran’s enrichment of uranium for nuclear fuel to help ensure it could not be turned to developing bomb material, and Tehran secured a removal of most international sanctions in return.

Iran has repeatedly said its ballistic missile programme has nothing to do with its nuclear work and is non-negotiable.

Slideshow (7 Images)

Trump sees three defects in the deal: a failure to address Iranian ballistic missiles; the terms under which U.N. inspectors can visit allegedly suspect Iranian nuclear sites; and “sunset” clauses under which key limits on the Iranian nuclear programme start to expire after 10 years.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Ori Lewis; Additional reporting by Sarah Dadouch in Riyadh and Andrew MacAskill in London; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Stephen Kalin

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Priorities USA super PAC ramps up fundraising for 2018


People voting are pictured. | Getty Images

The super PACs first-quarter haul more than doubled what it brought in all of last year, when the nonprofit took the lead fighting policies put forward by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Democratic group raised $4.5 million in the first quarter, plus $2.2 million for an allied nonprofit.

Priorities USA Action, the pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC that reinvented itself in 2017 with a broader mission and a focus on digital campaigning, raised $4.5 million in the first three months of 2018 as it prepares for the midterm elections.

The super PAC’s sister nonprofit, Priorities USA, raised $2.2 million, for a combined first-quarter total of $6.7 million.

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The super PAC’s first-quarter haul more than doubled what it brought in all of last year, when the nonprofit took the lead fighting policies put forward by President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans. The super PAC spent approximately $500,000 in two key 2018 Senate states, Indiana and Missouri, and finished the first quarter with about $4.5 million on hand, the group said.

The fundraising pace slowed for the 501(c)(4) nonprofit, Priorities USA, which brought in $15.5 million in 2017.

While Priorities USA Action has to report its donors and expenditures to the Federal Election Commission by Sunday’s first-quarter deadline, the 501(c)(4) can accept anonymous donations of unlimited size.

The Priorities USA groups plan to spend $75 million in the 2018 midterms, CNN reported in January, focusing on digital advertising and working in concert with House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC, the biggest Democratic super PACs focused on congressional races. Priorities USA Action and House Majority PAC already announced a plan to jointly spend $12 million on digital ads this year, as Democrats look to win the 23 seats they need to take back the House.

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