Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu have met in Washington for the first time since March. Outwardly the leaders expressed their support of one another, though tensions are clear.
The US president and Israeli prime minister met in Washington on Wednesday for the first time since Israel's summer bombardment of the Gaza Strip. In a press conference before closed-door talks in the Oval Office, Netanyahu focused on the subject of Iran's nuclear program, telling Obama that he believes Iran is poised to become a threshold nuclear power, and "I firmly hope under your leadership that would not happen."
A threshold nuclear power is a country that has the resources, knowledge and equipment to produce nuclear weapons. Iran has long insisted in the face of US sanctions that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Israel wants the program completely dismantled. In a speech to the UN on Monday, Netanyahu accused Iran of trying to "bamboozle" the rest of the world.
At the press conference, the Israeli leader warned Obama that "Iran seeks a deal that would lift the tough sanctions that you worked so hard to put in place." The United States, along with Iran, the other permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany have until November 24 to reach a deal on Iran's nuclear program, though all parties have admitted large hurdles remain.
The two leaders have often had a tense relationship. While the Obama administration has made its support of Israel known, the conflict with Hamas that began in June prompted more criticism from the White House than is usual. Obama used the press conference to reiterate his concern for the civilians casualties in the Palestinian territories.
Changing the status quo
Leaders must "find ways to change the status quo so that both Israeli citizens are safe in their own homes, and schoolchildren in their schools, from the possibility of rocket fire but also that we don't have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well," said Obama.
After US-sponsored peace talks collapsed in April, the US president cautioned that the situation as it stands between Israel and Palestinians is not sustainable. The Obama administration has also been critical of continued Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and other Palestinian territories, which began new construction on Wednesday, though neither leader commented on this development.
Netanyahu ended the press conference on a cooperative note before he and Obama spoke privately, saying Israel stood behind the US-led efforts to combat the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" terror group. Obama also reaffirmed his country's "ironclad commitment to making sure that Israel is secure."
es/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)