TEL AVIV — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday as a ''true friend of Israel,'' and both men affirmed that the US-Israeli relationship has never been stronger.
Pompeo expressed pride in the administration's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv, a decision that prompted a lopsided vote of condemnation at the United Nations and spurred a handful of nations to move their own embassies to Jerusalem.
''By recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and seat of its government, we are recognizing reality,'' he said.
Both Pompeo and Netanyahu used their meeting to tear into Iran, characterizing it as an international menace that has become more ambitious since the 2015 nuclear deal, a view expressed as well at Pompeo's previous stop, in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
''People thought Iran's aggression would be moderated as a result of signing the deal,'' Netanyahu said. ''The opposite has happened. Iran is trying to gobble up one country after the other. Iran must be stopped.''
Pompeo said Iran aims to dominate the entire Middle East, adding, ''The United States is with Israel in this fight.''
Although Netanyahu praised the US recognition of Jerusalem as bold and historic, he met Pompeo in Tel Aviv, not in Jerusalem as originally planned.
Pompeo had no plans to meet with any Palestinians, who have stopped talking to US officials since the Jerusalem decision. Nor did he plan to visit the site in Jerusalem that the administration is upgrading into an embassy.
Pompeo was accompanied by the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and while posing for photos before the meeting, Netanyahu congratulated Pompeo on his new position.
''We are very proud of the fact that this is your first visit as secretary of state,'' Netanyahu said.
Pompeo replied, ''You're an incredibly important partner [and] occupy a special place in my heart, too.''
Pompeo has yet to visit his office at the State Department since being sworn in Thursday.
Apart from updating Netanyahu on the looming decision on whether to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and coordinating ways to contain Iran in Syria, the Pompeo visit serves to set him apart from his predecessor, Rex Tillerson.
During his 14-month tenure, Tillerson never visited Israel solo, only accompanying Trump.
Under Tillerson, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was largely removed from the oversight of the State Department and added to the portfolio of Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
''Pompeo's early and quick trip to the region, particularly to Israel, is also a form of station identification that the new secretary of state intends to become a dominant force in Middle East policymaking,'' said Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official specializing in Middle East issues who is now at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
In Brussels on Friday, Pompeo said he wanted to bring the ''swagger'' back to the State Department, and this trip is a step toward the goal.
Under Tillerson, the voice most Americans heard on US foreign policy was that of Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, who is believed to harbor larger political ambitions for herself.
The trip allows Pompeo to reclaim that role for the top US diplomat, even as he has assiduously mentioned Trump's name in every public appearance he has made.
''Year Two in Trumpland may be a very different place on the foreign policy side,'' Miller said, hastening to add, ''with one exception — Trump will still sit at the center of it all.''
The May 12 deadline for Trump to decide whether to stick with or leave the Iran nuclear deal was the backdrop to every discussion Pompeo had.
Talking to reporters on the plane en route from Saudi Arabia to Tel Aviv, Pompeo brushed aside concerns that a decision to withdraw from the agreement could derail nuclear negotiations with North Korea.
Potential talks with North Korea about Pyongyang abandoning its nuclear weapons were expected to be an incentive for Trump to remain in the Iran deal, so as not to make Kim Jong Un distrustful of US intentions.
Pompeo's dismissal of that notion, however, suggests that Trump won't consider it much of an obstacle, either.
In Riyadh, Pompeo proclaimed the Iran deal — which was negotiated by the Obama administration and included five other world powers — a failure.
''The nuclear deal has failed to moderate the regime's conduct in many areas,'' he said. ''In fact, Iran has only behaved worse since the deal was approved.''