U.S. President Barack
Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have agreed on the need to
resume Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and to deal with the threat posed by
Iran's nuclear program. The two leaders had their first meeting Monday at the
White House since they both took office earlier this year.
Before Monday's meeting, analysts were speculating on whether there might be a public clash between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu over their different policy priorities. Mr. Obama was focused on resuming peace talks with the Palestinians, and Mr. Netanyahu was focused on Iran's nuclear threat. But speaking to the press after their two-hour meeting, both leaders made a point of recognizing how crucial both issues are to peace and security. Mr. Netanyahu said he is ready to resume peace talks with the Palestinians.
"And I want to start peace negotiations with the Palestinians immediately," said Benjamin Netanyahu. "I would like to broaden the circle of peace to include others in the Arab world. If we could, Mr. President, it is a distant vision but one that we shouldn't let go, maybe peace with the entire Arab world."
The Israeli Prime Minister made clear, however, that any agreement depends on the Palestinians accepting Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, and Israel's right to defend itself. And he stopped short of endorsing Palestinian statehood, saying only that Israel does not want to govern the Palestinians.
For his part, President Obama said he expects a positive response from his diplomatic outreach to Iran on stopping its nuclear program. He said the United States wanted to bring Iran into the world community, but also reassured Israel that he is not prepared to have talks forever."
"But as I said by the end of the year I think we should have some sense at to whether or not these discussions are starting to yield significant benefits, whether we are starting to see serious movement on the part of the Iranians," said President Obama.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said the common threat posed by Iran's nuclear program to the entire region could even lead to opportunities for Israel to work with its Arab neighbors.
"And in my 59 years, in the life of the Jewish state, there has never been a time when Arabs and Israelis see a common threat the way we see it today, and also see the need to join together in working towards peace while simultaneously defending ourselves against this common threat," he said.
President Obama stressed that his administration is committed to reviving the peace process.
"We are going to be engaged," said Mr. Obama. "The United States is going to roll up our sleeves, we want to be a strong partner in this process. I have great confidence in Prime Minister Netanyahu's political skills, but also his historical vision."
Next week, Mr. Obama will continue his push for Middle East diplomacy, hosting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House.