Trump touts peace hopes at Netanyahu meeting

UNITED NATIONS, United States: US President Donald Trump again expressed his hopes for a peaceful settlement to the Middle East crisis Monday as he met Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu was the first leader to have a one–on–one with Trump at the US president's first United Nations General Assembly, an annual week of high–level diplomacy.

The conversation in New York will be dominated by talks of North Korean provocations, the Iran nuclear deal, the crisis in Syria and the debate on climate change.

But Trump was at pains to remind reporters that he has not forgotten his pledge to help negotiate an end to the long dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We're going to be discussing many things; among them, peace between the Palestinians and Israel — it will be a fantastic achievement," he said, sitting with Netanyahu.

"We are giving it an absolute go. I think there's a good chance that it could happen. Most people would say there's no chance whatsoever," he said.

"I actually think with the capability of Bibi and, frankly, the other side, I really think we have a chance," he insisted.

"I think Israel would like to see it, and I think the Palestinians would like to see it. And I can tell you that the Trump administration would like to see it.

"So we're working very hard on it. We'll see what happens. Historically, people say it can't happen. I say it can happen."

Netanyahu thanked Trump for his and the United States' support for Israel, and said he wanted to focus on the Iranian threat and Tehran's growing clout in Syria.

But he also agreed to discuss the "opportunity for peace" between Israel and Palestinians and, in his preferred emphasis, "between Israel and the Arab World."

Trump is due to meet the Palestinian leader, Mahmud Abbas on Wednesday, again at the UN assembly.

Shuttle diplomacy

The Palestinians are keen to clarify US support for a two–state solution to the stand–off with Israel, the focus of international diplomacy since at least the 1990s.

Some members of Netanyahu's government oppose such a deal, and the premier is a defender of Jewish settlement building on occupied land claimed by Palestinians.

Trump's Middle East envoy and son–in–law Jared Kushner and senior aide Jason Greenblatt have been ferrying between leaders from the two sides for months.

But Palestinian officials have become increasingly frustrated by the White House's ambivalent stance.

Trump and Netanyahu were also meeting on the day that, according to a senior Israeli officer, Israel and its US ally opened their first joint missile defense base.

The site, in southern Israel, will fly a US flag and strengthen the region's defenses, said Brigadier General Tzvika Heimowitz, head of Israeli missile defenses. — AFP