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Israeli Minister Michael Oren On Trump's Visit To Israel


President Trump departs today on the first overseas trip of his presidency. Israel is one of his early stops. The visit comes not long after allegations that the president shared Israeli intelligence data with the Russians. The White House denies any breach of protocol. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has, to this point, been a strong backer of President Trump. At the White House last February, the prime minister told reporters, quote, "there is no greater friend to Israel than President Trump." Michael Oren is a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. He serves now in the Netanyahu government as deputy minister for diplomacy.

Ambassador Oren, welcome to the program.

MICHAEL OREN: Glad to be with you, Rachel.

MARTIN: What has been the reaction inside and outside of the Netanyahu government when it comes to these allegations about what President Trump may have shared with Russian officials, intelligence that reportedly came from Israel?

OREN: Yeah, it hasn't really struck much of emotions here. The U.S. and Israel have probably the closest intelligence relationship of any two countries in the Middle East and perhaps even outside of the Middle East. And occasional reports like this surface. It's not the first of its kind - I remember many during the Obama years. It's not going to impact that relationship in any way. In fact, it's only going to get stronger.

MARTIN: Are you convinced that your intelligence agency feels the same way? Or will they be more reticent to share sensitive information with the U.S. as a result of this?

OREN: I'm convinced, persuaded that the intelligence community remains committed to the closest possible relationship with our American counterparts. And that relationship will grow stronger still.

MARTIN: The president has stated he wants to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. He thinks he can do it. If asked by President Trump, would Prime Minister Netanyahu be willing to return to the negotiating table?

OREN: Unequivocally, yes. The more important thing is the Palestinians return to the table without preconditions. And we'd like to see other countries at the table as well, many of our Arab neighbors.

MARTIN: So what does when you say Palestinians have to come to the table without preconditions? What specifically do you want...

OREN: Well, for nearly eight years, we were bogged down with Palestinian preconditions - Israel had to free prisoners; Israel had to freeze building here and there - and we never got to negotiations. Our position was then - it remains unchanged - direct negotiations leading to a final status agreement, negotiations that are direct and without preconditions.

MARTIN: So you're saying Israel would go to the table without preconditions. Your only...

OREN: Palestine as well.

MARTIN: ...Precondition is that the Palestinians drop theirs.

OREN: (Laughter) You could say that, if you will. It's kind of an awkward locution, but yet we have no preconditions. We see a peace agreement that has essential components. For example, there's a Palestinian state. It has to be demilitarized. They have to recognize us as the nation-state of the Jewish people like we recognize the rights of the Palestinian people. They don't even recognize us as a people. We recognize Palestinians as a people. But they have preconditions. We are willing to sit at the table tomorrow without any conditionality, and we want the Palestinians to do the same.

MARTIN: As I mentioned, the president has talked about brokering a Middle East peace deal as something that he can do. He's even said, quote, "maybe it's not as difficult as people have thought over the years." Do you think the president is overestimating his abilities, underestimating the complexity?

OREN: I hope he's right. I found the approach refreshing. He comes from the business community, not from the diplomatic community. It is certainly, certainly worth a major effort on the part of all the parties involved.

MARTIN: Michael Oren is Israel's deputy minister for diplomacy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.