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The Middle East and Donald Trump: What he thinks about Israel, Iran and Syria

In an interview with The Times and Bild, the US president-elect offered his thoughts on the Middle East, the Iran deal and the Syria war
Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th US president on 20 January (AFP)

Donald Trump becomes US president this week. In an interview on Sunday in The Times and the German newspaper Bild, he explained his current thinking on the Middle East.

Israel and Palestine

A resolution adopted by the UN Security Council in December condemned settlements in the West Bank as “a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”

READ: Trump means big trouble for 'Brand Israel'

Trump condemned the Obama administration’s choice to abstain from the resolution, rather than veto it. “I think it [the resolution] was terrible. It should have been a veto," he told Gove. "I think it was terrible.”

“The UK may have another chance to veto if what I’m hearing is true, because you know, you have a meeting as you know, this weekend," he said in reference to the Paris conference. "And there are a lot of bad stories being circulated.

'The problem I have is that it makes it a tougher deal for me to negotiate because the Palestinians are given so much'

- Donald Trump on Israel-Palestine peace talks

“The problem I have is that it makes it a tougher deal for me to negotiate because the Palestinians are given so much, even though it’s not legally binding, it’s psychologically binding and it makes it much tougher for me to negotiate. You understand that? Because people are giving away chips, they’re giving away all these chips.”

Trump also told Bild that he would appoint Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, to broker a Middle East peace deal. "Jared is such a good kid and he’ll make a deal with Israel that no one else can," Trump said. "You know he’s a natural, he’s a great deal, he’s a natural... you know what I was talking about, natural... he’s a natural deal-maker... everyone likes him."

Islamic State

Trump: "I’d rather not say, I don’t want to be like Obama or others, where they say..."

But before Trump could lay out his thoughts on one of the biggest threats to regional and world security, his words trailed off onto another topic - Iraq.

Iraq

“I always talk about Mosul, you know Mosul’s turned out to be a disas... brutal,” Trump said. “So they announced four months ago we’re going to attack Mosul. I said: 'Why do you have to announce it?'

Trump explained that it should not have been a priority for the US to announce that it was going to advance on Mosul. Instead the president-elect believes it would have been better to wait until the situation was clearer.

READ: Trump says US will avoid getting involved in foreign wars

“Mosul turned out to be a disaster because we announced five months ago that we were going into Mosul, in five months. In four months we said: “We’re getting ready.'

An Iraqi army tank on the outskirts of Mosul in late 2016 (Florian Neuhof/MEE)

"By the time we get in, it’s been so much talk - and it’s been very hard to take - you know that, right?”

Trump also expressed regret at the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

'So they announced four months ago we’re going to attack Mosul. I said: 'Why do you have to announce it?'

- Donald Trump on the Mosul offensive

“Iraq should not have been attacked in the first place, all right? It was one of the worst decisions, possibly the worst decision ever made in the history of our country. We’ve unleashed... it’s like throwing rocks into a beehive.”

“It’s one of the great messes of all time. I looked at something, uh, I’m not allowed to show you because it’s classified... But, I just looked at Afghanistan and you look at the Taliban – and you take a look at every, every year it's more, more, more, you know they have the different colours – and you say, you know: 'What’s going on?'”

Iran

Trump has repeatedly condemned the Iran nuclear deal which the Obama administration achieved in 2015.

When asked if he would  “rip up” the agreement - as he said last year - Trump continued to be vague about his plans.

'I mean, look, I’m not a politician, I don’t go out and say: ‘I’m gonna do this... I’m gonna do...' I gotta do what I gotta do'

- Donald Trump on dealing with Iran

“Well, I don’t want to say what I’m gonna do with the Iran deal. I just don’t want to play the cards. I mean, look, I’m not a politician, I don’t go out and say: ‘I’m gonna do this... I’m gonna do...' I gotta do what I gotta do.”

Trump continued: “But I don’t wanna play. Who plays cards where you show everybody the hand before you play it? But I’m not happy with the Iran deal, I think it’s one of the worst deals ever made, I think it’s one of the dumbest deals I’ve ever seen, one of the dumbest, in terms of a deal.”

READ: Why Iranians wanted Trump as president

“Where you give... where you give a $150 billion back to a country, where you give $1.7 billion in cash... Did you ever see a million dollars in hundred dollar bills? It’s a lot. It’s a whole, it’s a lot. $1.7 billion in cash. Plane loads. Of, of - think of it - plane, many planes. Boom. $1.7 billion. I don’t understand. It just shows the power of a president...  when a president of this country can authorise $1.7 billion in cash, that’s a lot of power.”

Syria and refugee crisis

When asked about German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s policy towards Syrian refugees, which Trump had previously described as “insane”, the US president-elect said: “I think it’s not good. I think it was a big mistake for Germany. And Germany of all countries, 'cause Germany was one of the toughest in the world for having anybody go in.”

'Get the Gulf states to pay for ’em who aren’t coming through, I mean they’ve got money that nobody has'

- Donald Trump on the refugee crisis

Referring back to Merkel, Trump said: “I’ll meet her and I respect her. And I like her but I think it was a mistake. And people make mistakes but I think it was a very big mistake.”

Trump argued instead that "safe zones" should have been created inside Syria for refugees. “I think we should have built safe zones in Syria. Would have been a lot less expensive.”

Trump said that the Gulf states should bear the brunt of dealing with the Syria crisis. “Get the Gulf states to pay for ’em who aren’t coming through, I mean they’ve got money that nobody has."

Aleppo residents flee the fighting in December 2016 (AFP)

“Would have been a lot less expensive than the trauma that Germany’s going through now - but I would have said - you build safe zones in Syria. Look, this whole thing should have never happened.”

Trump berated President Obama for failing to take action earlier in the conflict and for not enforcing his "red lines" over chemical weapons. He said that it was now too late for the US to intervene to resolve the conflict.

“Nah, I think it’s a very rough thing," Trump said. "It’s a very bad thing, we had a chance to do something when we had the line in the sand and it wasn’t… nothing happened. That was the only time… and now, it’s sort of very late. It’s too late."

READ: What Trump means for Syria

He appeared criticised attacks on civilians during the siege and recapture of Aleppo by Syrian government forces.

“Now everything is over… at some point it will come to an end… but Aleppo was nasty. I mean, when you see them shooting old ladies walking out of town… they can’t even walk and they’re shooting ’em…  it almost looks like they’re shooting ’em for sport… ah no, that’s a terrible…  that’s been a terrible situation. Aleppo has been such a terrible humanitarian situation.”