Monday, March 10, 2014
The Associated Press
(Continued from page 1)
President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu huddle during their joint news conference in Jerusalem, Israel, Wednesday, March 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama is greeted by children waving Israeli and American flags as he arrives at the residence of Israeli President Shimon Peres on Wednesday in Jerusalem.
"I appreciate the fact that the president has reaffirmed, more than any other president, Israel's right and duty to defend itself by itself against any threat," he said.
The Israeli leader also said that he and Obama agree that it would take Iran about a year to manufacture a nuclear weapon. Obama said there is "not a lot of light, a lot of daylight" between the two leaders in intelligence assessments about Iran.
The two leaders also spoke firmly about the need to pursue a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, an effort that was stymied during Obama's first term. The president, who arrived in Israel without a clear pathway for jumpstarting talks, acknowledged that in recent years, "we haven't gone forward, we haven't seen the kind of progress that we would like to see."
Netanyahu, for his part, said he was willing to set aside preconditions in future talks with the Palestinians, adding that it was time to "turn a page in our relations."
But they avoided tackling any of the intractable issues that have derailed the peace process, including Israeli settlement building and the status of Jerusalem. Obama promised to talk about peace efforts more expansively Thursday during a speech to Israeli youth.
He also was making a quick trip to the West Bank Thursday to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama planned to visit a youth center in Ramallah before heading back to Jerusalem to deliver a speech and attend a formal dinner with Peres.
He will also travel to Jordan later in the week, a stop aimed at shoring up government reforms by the important U.S. ally and pledging American support in dealing with the 450,000 Syrian refugees that have flooded over the border.
On another troubling issue in the Syria fighting, Obama said the U.S. is investigating whether chemical weapons have been used there. Both the Assad government and Syrian rebels have accused each other of using chemical weapons in an attack on Tuesday.
"Once you let that genie out of the bottle, then you are looking potentially at even more horrific scenes than we have already seen in Syria," Obama said. "And the international community has to act on that information."
Obama was greeted warmly upon his arrival in Israel Wednesday following an overnight flight from Washington. Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres met him at the steps of Air Force One as U.S. and Israeli flags waved on a breezy, sun-splashed afternoon.
During an elaborate welcome ceremony at Tel Aviv's airport, the Israeli leaders lavished praise on Obama, with Netanyahu calling the U.S. president his "cherished guest" and Peres saying he was a "historic friend of Israel." Obama responded in kind, saying he and his counterparts "share a vision of Israel at peace with its neighbors."
Seeking to underscore U.S. military cooperation with Israel, Obama viewed an Iron Dome battery that was transported to the airport for his arrival. The U.S. has invested more than $275 million into the missile defense system and plans to spend another $211 million on it this year. U.S. and Israeli officials credit the Iron Dome with preventing numerous rocket attacks from neighboring Palestinian territories.
Obama also announced Wednesday that the U.S. and Israel would start talks soon on a new, 10-year security cooperation package to replace one that expires in 2017.
While Israel warmly greeted Obama, Palestinians held several small protests. In Gaza, demonstrators burned Obama posters and U.S. flags, accusing the U.S. of being unfairly biased toward Israel. In the West Bank, about 200 activists erected tents in an area just outside Jerusalem to draw attention to Israel's policy of settlement building.