Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that reports over the last year of a growing rift between the U.S. and Israel are “flat wrong,” following a meeting with President Obama at the White House.
“The reports about the demise of the special U.S.-Israel relationship aren’t just premature. They’re just flat wrong,” Netanyahu said, sitting in the Oval Office to Obama’s left and speaking to reporters in English. “There’s a depth and richness of this relationship that is expressed every day. Our teams talk. We don’t make it public.”
Netanyahu’s trip to Washington comes a week after Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, was quoted by Israeli news outlets as having said that there is a “tectonic rift” between the two countries. Oren disputed the report.
Obama also downplayed disagreements between himself and the Israel leader, though he did not deny that there have been some.
“The press … enjoys seeing if there’s news there, but the fact of the matter is that I trusted Prime Minister Netanyahu since I met him before I was elected president,” Obama said. “There are going to be times when he and I are having robust discussions about what kind of choices need to be made. But the underlying approach never changes. And that is, the United States is committed to Israel’s security. We are committed to that special bond.”
Obama also repudiated a story that appeared in the New York Times over the weekend that said a recently drafted nuclear nonproliferation agreement signed by the U.S. included language that would call on Israel to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Israel has traditionally not signed on to the NPT, since they do not acknowledge possessing nuclear weapons.
But Obama said Tuesday that “there is no change” in the U.S. policy.
“Israel has unique security requirements. It’s got to be able to respond to threats,” Obama said. “The United States will never ask Israel to take any steps to undermine their security interests.”
A White House official confirmed that Obama’s comments were aimed at assuring the Israelis publicly that the Times story was wrong.
On the topic of Iran, Netanyahu said that sanctions approved by Congress last week and signed into law late in the week “actually have teeth.”
“They bite. The question is how much do you need to bite?” Netanyahu said. “That is something I cannot answer now, but if other nations adopted similar sanctions that would increase the effect.”
U.S.-Israeli relations have been troubled since Obama took office, following the president’s insistence that Netanyahu agree to a freeze of all settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But both sides have made a concerted effort in recent months to repair the relationship, with at least part of the calculus being that an isolated Israel could increase the likelihood that they carry out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program.