Obama, Netanyahu hail ‘extraordinary bond’

Seeking a boost in U.S. defense aid, Israel argues that sanctions relief will allow Tehran to invest more heavily in its missile development

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President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to reaffirm strong U.S.-Israeli ties at the White House Monday, after relations were sorely tested by disputes over Iran and Middle East peace.

Admitting it was “no secret” the two men disagreed on how to counter Iran’s nuclear program, both sought to end personal public rancor and focus on areas of cooperation, including a $30-billion-plus military deal.

Offering the combative Israel Prime Minister a lengthy Oval Office handshake, Obama hailed the “extraordinary bond” between the two countries and said Israel’s security was a “top” foreign policy priority for his White House.

Netanyahu reciprocated by trying to bury suggestions -- fueled by his own election campaign comments -- that he does not support the creation of a Palestinian state.

For decades the prospect of a two state solution has been the bedrock of peace efforts.

Netanyahu had infuriated the White House by suggesting that a two state solution was dead.

U.S. officials feared such comments would only fuel Palestinians’ sense of skepticism about the political process and perhaps provoke violence.

“I want to make it clear that we have not given up our hope for peace. We'll never give up our hope for peace,” Netanyahu said.

“I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two people’s, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.”

The White House said on Monday that the goal of a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis is not likely to be reached during Obama’s final months in office.

During Netanyahu’s re-election campaign earlier this year, the right-wing Likud party leader vowed there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. Even when Netanyahu backtracked and insisted he was not reneging on long-time policy, the White House was unconvinced.

Seeking a boost in U.S. defense aid, Israel argues that sanctions relief agreed by world powers under the July deal that curbs Iran’s nuclear program will allow Tehran to invest more heavily in its missile development, while redoubling funding for Hezbollah and Hamas guerrilla allies on its borders.

Israel now receives $3.1 billion from the United States annually and wants $5 billion per year for 10 years, for a total of $50 billion, Congressional officials have told Reuters.

One U.S. official predicted the sides would settle for an annual sum of $4 billion to $5 billion.

(With Reuters, AFP)

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