WASHINGTON — President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to soothe rocky relations on Tuesday, declaring that any talk of a rift is unfounded. Obama said the U.S.-Israeli bond is “unbreakable.”

“The United States is committed to Israel’s security,” Obama said as the two leaders addressed reporters in the Oval Office. “We are committed to that special bond. And we are going to do what’s required to back that up, not just with words, but with actions.”

For the Israeli leader’s part, Netanyahu said of solving years of strife with Palestinians: “We’re committed to that peace. I’m committed to that peace.” And he said that reports of the demise of the U.S.-Israel relationship are “flat wrong.”

“There’s a depth and richness of this relationship that is expressed every day,” Netanyahu said before the two leaders headed into a working lunch.

Trying to add a sense of urgency, Netanyahu said he and Obama discussed specific steps that could be taken soon to move the peace process forward, without elaborating. “When I say the next few weeks, that’s what I mean,” he said. “The president means that too.”

Obama hailed Israel’s recent decision to greatly ease its three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip as “real progress.” And he said he believes Netanyahu wants peace with the Palestinians and is serious about resuming the face-to-face Mideast peace talks that broke off in December 2008.


Netanyahu and Obama talked as protesters gathered across the street in Lafayette Park and chanted “No More Aid, End the Blockade,” referring to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

After heavy international pressure, including from Obama and other top U.S. officials, Israel’s decision to ease its Gaza blockade will let in most consumer goods. The ban on exports from Gaza and limits on shipments of construction material remain.

It was the leaders’ fifth meeting, and a makeup for a scheduled June 1 session at the White House that Netanyahu canceled to deal with fallout from Israel’s deadly May 31 military raid on a flotilla trying to break the Gaza embargo.

The atmosphere, expressed in the rhetoric and in the schedule, was far different than at their last meeting here. At that time, Obama, upset over Israeli policies in disputed East Jerusalem, had Netanyahu to the White House in the evening and out of sight of all media coverage.

This time, the leaders appeared together before reporters in the Oval Office.

A key topic was resuming the U.S.-mediated indirect peace talks. Netanyahu has repeatedly said he is ready to meet face to face with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but has given few indications about what concessions he is willing to make.

Obama and Netanyahu also talked about efforts to end Iran’s nuclear weapons pursuit.


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