July 6, 2010
Obama-Netanyahu meeting looks good, but what did they talk about? [VIDEO]
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Israeli officials placed it a distant third behind delivering assurances to Israel that the United States would not press Israel for nuclear transparency, and U.S. assistance in shepherding Israel past the crisis sparked by Israel’s deadly May 31 raid on an aid flotilla that aimed to breach Israel’s embargo of the Gaza Strip.
Still, the Israeli team emerged from the meetings reassured and even jovial. The nuclear issue was key.
“The United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine its security interests,” Obama said, referring to his administration’s efforts to get more countries to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Israeli officials had raised concerns after a U.S.-hosted conference in May concluded with an agreement to consider the issue of Israel. U.S. officials said later that the issue should only be considered subsequent to a comprehensive, permanent peace, which is Israel’s position.
The United States and Israel have a longstanding agreement to maintain ambiguity on Israel’s nuclear capacity. Israel is believed to maintain an arsenal of up to 200 nuclear warheads.
Netanyahu thanked Obama for “reaffirming the longstanding U.S. commitments to Israel on matters of vital strategic importance.”
Especially impressive to the Israelis, and to pro-Israel lobbyists that have fretted about the ostensible rift, was how Obama framed the announcement.
“We strongly believe that given its size, its history, the region that it’s in and the threats that are leveled against us—against it—that Israel has unique security requirements,” Obama said. “It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region. And that’s why we remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel’s security.”
The remark spoke to the “kishkes” factor—the concern among some pro-Israel groups about whether or not Obama has an intuitive, gut understanding of Israel’s security needs.
“This recognition by the United States of Israel’s security needs is a testament to the common understanding of the complexities of the Middle East situation,” B’nai B’rith International said in a statement.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee applauded the remark.
“For over 60 years Israel has offered its hand in peace, demonstrating again and again its willingness to make real and heartrending sacrifices—altering borders, relinquishing territory, uprooting families and entire communities—in the pursuit of peace,” the organization noted.
Israeli officials said they were especially pleased with U.S. efforts to push back pressure for an international inquiry into the flotilla raid, which left nine Turks dead—including one Turkish-American citizen—and which has disrupted ties among Turkey, the United States and Israel.
Netanyahu also said he was pleased by the Iran sanctions Obama helped shepherd through the United Nations Security Council, as well as congressional sanctions that became law last week.
“I think the latest sanctions adopted by the U.N. create illegitimacy or create de-legitimization for Iran’s nuclear program, and that is important,” Netanyahu said. “I think the sanctions the president signed the other day actually have teeth. They bite.”
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