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Clinton and Trump prepare for first US presidential debate

Published 26/09/2016

Hillary Clinton waves as she arrives for a meeting with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu in New York (AP)
Hillary Clinton waves as she arrives for a meeting with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu in New York (AP)

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are preparing for a bruising first US presidential debate with foreign policy expected to feature strongly.

Democrat Mrs Clinton met Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for less than an hour in Manhattan, according to campaign officials, after Republican Mr Trump sat down with him at the billionaire businessman's residence in Trump Tower.

Reporters were barred from covering either meeting.

Mrs Clinton's campaign said the two had an "in-depth conversation". She stressed that "a strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States" and "reaffirmed unwavering commitment" to the relationship.

According to her campaign, Mrs Clinton stressed her support for the 10-year, 38 billion-dollar (£29 billion) military aid package signed between the two countries earlier the month and opposition to efforts to boycott Israel.

They also discussed Iran, the conflict in Syria and other regional challenges, including her support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict negotiated by the two parties, not an outside organisation like the United Nations Security Council.

Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu discussed "at length" Israel's use of a fence to help secure its borders, an example Mr Trump frequently cites when he is talking about the wall he wants to build between the US and Mexico.

"Trump recognised that Israel and its citizens have suffered far too long on the front lines of Islamic terrorism," the campaign said in a statement.

"He agreed with Prime Minister Netanyahu that the Israeli people want a just and lasting peace with their neighbours, but that peace will only come when the Palestinians renounce hatred and violence and accept Israel as a Jewish state."

The meetings were designed to put Israel on good footing with the next US president, but also served to showcase the candidates' expertise in foreign policy in the shadow of their first debate on Monday, six weeks before election day.

Mrs Clinton, a former senator and secretary of state, often says that Mr Trump does not know enough about the world and lacks the temperament to be president.

Mr Trump has argued that he has extensive experience with foreign policy through his career as a business executive and blames Mrs Clinton for many of the nation's stumbles in foreign policy.

Meanwhile, the candidates deployed their top supporters to the Sunday TV shows to take early jabs at their opponents and lower expectations for a showdown expected to draw 75 million viewers - many of them disenchanted with both candidates, the least-popular presidential hopefuls in history.

Facts and who will determine them during the 90-minute debate seemed to be a top concern of the campaigns' strategists.

Robby Mook, Mrs Clinton's campaign manager, told ABC's This Week that he is concerned Mr Trump will continue his habit of sometimes saying things that are not true and still get a passing grade.

He called on moderator Lester Holt to correct any inaccuracies made by the candidates.

But Mr Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said it was not the job of debate moderators to fact check.

Mr Trump's vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, meanwhile, said that Gennifer Flowers would not attend the debate.

Mr Trump had tweeted that if frequent Trump critic Mark Cuban attended the showdown, he would put Ms Flowers, allegedly the former mistress of Mrs Clinton's husband Bill, in the audience too.

Ms Conway said that Ms Flowers had a right to be there if "somebody else gives her a ticket". But Mr Pence drew a harder line.

"Gennifer Flowers will not be attending the debate tomorrow night," Mr Pence said on Fox News Sunday.

On ABC, Ms Conway defended the tweet, saying Mr Trump "wants to remind people that he's a great counter-puncher".

But Mr Trump was focused on other matters on Sunday.

His campaign said that during his meeting with Mr Netanyahu, Mr Trump promised "extraordinary strategic, technological, military and intelligence co-operation between the two countries" if he was elected.

Mr Trump's campaign said the men, who have known each other for years, discussed "many topics important to both countries", including "the special relationship between America and Israel and the unbreakable bond between the two countries".

Among those topics are the nuclear deal with Iran, the battle against Islamic State militants, military assistance provided by the US to Israel and other security issues.

On Monday, Mrs Clinton's campaign manager said her priority during the debate will be explaining her policies to the American public.

Mr Mook said that Mrs Clinton knows she needs to earn voters' trust. He said: "We want this to be about the issues. We want both candidates to explain their plans to the American people."

Mr Mook said his primary concern is that Mr Trump will get "the most improved award", but Mrs Clinton will get judged on "the fine points of policy".

He added: "Donald Trump is an experienced reality show entertainer so he may decide this is a chance to show his chops."

He said the campaign wants Mrs Clinton "to have as much time as possible to talk about how she's going to make a difference".

Meanwhile, Ms Conway said she is confident Mr Trump do well in his debate with Mrs Clinton, saying the "natural connective tissue he has with people" will be on display.

She also said she expects Mr Trump to say more about his plan to defeat the Islamic State group. She said "he'll be happy to offer specifics without telling the enemy what we're going to do".

Speaking on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Ms Conway said "people are just amazed" that Mrs Clinton outlined her strategy against IS on her website.

Asked about Mr Trump's preparations for the primetime television face-off, she said he has studied the issues and "I can see that this man is ready for tonight".

AP

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