December 19, 2014
At White House, Israel's Netanyahu pushes back against Obama diplomacy
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bluntly told Barack Obama that Israelis expected their leader not to compromise on their security even as the US president sought to reassure him on Iran diplomacy and pressure him on Middle East peace talks.
In White House talks overshadowed by the Ukraine crisis, the two leaders tried to avoid any direct clash in a brief appearance before the press but were unable to paper over their differences on a pair of sensitive diplomacy drives that have stoked tensions between Israel and the United States.
Obama assured Netanyahu of his "absolute commitment" to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, despite the Israeli premier's deep skepticism over US-led efforts to reach an agreement curbing Tehran's nuclear program.
But Obama also urged Netanyahu to make "tough decisions" to help salvage a US-brokered peace process aimed at reaching a framework agreement with the Palestinians.
"The Israeli people expect me to stand strong against criticism and pressure," Netanyahu told reporters.
Obama and Netanyahu, who have had strained relations in the past, showed no outright signs of tension in their body language as they sat side-by-side in the Oval Office. But their differences were clear.
With time running out for an Israeli-Palestinian deal, Obama and Netanyahu sparred in public comments in the run-up to their meeting, which came at a critical juncture for the president's second-term foreign policy agenda.
Netanyahu arrived in Washington to a veiled warning from Obama that it would be harder to protect Israel against efforts to isolate it internationally if peace efforts failed.
The Israeli leader used a brief joint appearance to put the onus on the Palestinians to advance prospects for peace and to vow to hold the line on Israel's security.
In his remarks, Netanyahu recapped decades of conflict with the Palestinians as well as what Israelis see as an existential threat from Iran, the arch-foe of the Jewish state.
"I as the prime minister of Israel will do whatever I must do to defend the Jewish state," he said.
Obama is seeking room for diplomacy with Iran, while Netanyahu says sanctions on Tehran are being eased prematurely.