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Netanyahu to press Pompeo for more pressure on 'tottering' Iran

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Lisbon (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Portugal Wednesday to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and call for increased pressure on the "tottering" Iranian government.

The two men will meet on Wednesday night in Lisbon, the US State Department announced, with Netanyahu saying he was mainly travelling to Portugal to meet Pompeo.

Speaking before setting off, Netanyahu, who faces a corruption indictment back in Israel, returned to a common theme -- Iran.

He said US President Donald Trump's sanctions against Iran were paying dividends and that he would be urging Pompeo to take further steps.

"I think President Trump has placed tremendous pressures and sanctions on Iran," he said.

"We're seeing the Iranian empire totter. We see demonstrations in Tehran, demonstrations in Baghdad, demonstrations in Beirut. It's important to increase this pressure against Iranian aggression."

Israel, which is widely believed to have the Middle East's sole but undeclared nuclear arsenal, has for years accused Iran of seeking to obtain nuclear weapons and strongly opposed a 2015 agreement designed to address the concerns of major powers.

Trump, a strong Netanyahu ally, unilaterally pulled the United States out of the deal in May last year and reimposed crippling sanctions.

Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political life after an indictment on graft charges, has hailed the Trump sanctions.

Israel believes they have squeezed the Iranian economy, prompting the government to raise fuel prices -- sparking nationwide protests.

Lebanon and Iraq, both countries where Iran has significant influence, have also seen major demonstrations.

- 'Should be ashamed' -

Netanyahu criticised European governments that have signed up to a barter system that would allow Iran to trade without fear of US sanctions.

Six new European countries agreed to support the Instex system and Netanyahu said that "instead of supporting American sanctions, they are weakening them. That's not right.

"They should be ashamed of themselves. While people are risking their lives and dying on the streets of Tehran, they are giving sustenance and support to this tyrannical regime," he said.

Netanyahu, who was last month indicted on a variety of graft charges and faces a third election within a year after deadlocked polls in April and September, has been bolstered by a number of landmark steps taken by Trump.

He is Israel's longest serving prime minister but he is serving in a caretaker capacity after the inconclusive elections.

Wednesday's meeting will be the first between the two men since Pompeo announced last month that the United States no longer considered Jewish settlements in the West Bank to be illegal.

The announcement broke with decades of international consensus that the settlements are illegal and a major barrier to peace with the Palestinians.

The US position offered a boost to Netanyahu as he threatens to annex much of the West Bank, a step that would severely impede the long-held Palestinian hope for a separate state.

More than 600,000 Israelis live in settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, alongside around three million Palestinians.

Among previous steps, Trump earlier recognised bitterly contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital and cut off US funding for the UN body that supports Palestinian refugees.

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