US link with Israel 'is unbreakable'

UNITED STATES president Barack Obama and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to improve rocky relations yesterday, saying after a White House meeting that any talk of a rift was unfounded.

Mr Obama said the US-Israeli bond is unbreakable.

The president had praise for his guest, hailing as "real progress" Israel's recent decision to ease its three-year blockade of the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip.

He also said he believes Mr Netanyahu wants peace with the Palestinians and is serious about resuming the face-to-face Middle East peace talks that broke off in December 2008.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

For the Israeli leader's part, he pledged commitment to peace with the Palestinians and said any reports of the demise of the US-Israeli relationship were "flat wrong".

Mr Netanyahu and Mr Obama talked in the White House Oval Office as protesters gathered across the street in Lafayette Park and chanted "No More Aid, End the Blockade", referring to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The meeting between Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu was their first since a troubled White House meeting between them in March. It followed Israel's surprise announcement of plans for new building in east Jerusalem as US vice president Joe Biden was in Israel and preparing for dinner with the prime minister.

On Sunday Mr Netanyahu endorsed the US call for direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, only days after White House officials said Mr Obama would push during the Oval Office session for those negotiations to get under way sooner rather than later.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Addressing his Cabinet on Sunday, Mr Netanyahu said the "time has come" for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to get ready to meet the Israelis "because there is no other way to advance peace. I hope this will be one of the results of the visit to Washington".

Aides to Mr Obama sounded a hopeful note late last week, telling reporters that weeks of shuttle diplomacy between the two sides by George Mitchell, Mr Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, had paid off and "the gaps have narrowed".

Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu are also expected to discuss Israel's decision on Monday to significantly ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip to let in most consumer goods. Israel's ban on exports from Gaza and limits on shipments of building material remain.

Israel came under heavy international pressure, including from Mr Obama and other top US officials, to loosen its three-year-old land and naval blockade of the seaside territory after Israel's deadly military raid on a flotilla trying to break the embargo on May 31.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

At the time, Mr Obama said the situation was "unsustainable". He called for a narrow blockade to bar weapons that Gaza's Hamas rulers could use against Israel while admitting items the territory's 1.5 million Palestinians need for daily living and economic development.

Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu are likely to discuss efforts to end Iran's nuclear weapons pursuit, including sanctions Mr Obama signed into law last week. That legislation followed a fourth round of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran.

Yesterday's meeting was the fifth between Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu and would make up for a session at the White House scheduled for June 1

that Mr Netanyahu cancelled to deal with fall-out from the flotilla raid.