The relationship between Israel and the United States is strong enough to weather recent tensions over the stalled Middle East peace process, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said Tuesday following a private get-together with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.
Speaking to reporters after the White House lunch meeting, Wiesel said that while there were "moments of tension" between Jerusalem and Washington, he believed that "the relationship is strong."
"Relations between Israel and the United States have a history. And that history is has always been one of understanding,” Wiesel said.
The meeting between the two came about after Wiesel published a full page ad in the Washington Post last month, criticizing recent American pressure on Israel and claiming that it would not produce a solution to the issue of Jerusalem.
"For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics," Wiesel wrote in the ad. "It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture - and not a single time in the Koran...the first song I heard was my mother's lullaby about and for Jerusalem."
Following Tuesday's White House meeting, Wiesel referred to recent attempts to bring Israel and the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiations table, saying that both "sides must understand each other and work together."
"There is no substitute to peace," Wiesel said, adding that "there is no absolute justice in the world and no absolute peace. Each side has to treat each other with respect and to have sovereignty in its decision making."
After the meeting, Wiesel told Haaretz that he and Obama have long been "friends, and the meeting, which lasted more than one hour, strengthened our friendship."
"It was a very warm meeting. I think now he understands me better, and I understand better his motivation," the Nobel laureate said, adding that he and Obama "discussed lots of things, some of them I cannot tell, things certainly became more clear."
Wiesel added that there was "nothing but mutual respect for one another," saying that the two spoke about Jerusalem, and I got a feeling that he respects my advice to wait with Jerusalem until the end of the process, and understands my position, I can’t tell whether he accepts it or not. He didn’t try to convince me."
Asked whether or not the issue of recent U.S. pressure on Israel was discussed during the lunch, the Nobel laureate said that "The word pressure wasn't used, but he said he had a very good phone conversation with Prime Minster Netanyahu yesterday. And he thinks the peace process will continue."
Speaking on the subject of Iran's contentious nuclear program, Wiesel said that the "danger that Iran presents to Israel and other nations to the regions was an important part of our conversation."
Referring to a comment made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during an interview with Charlie Rose earlier Tuesday, top Obama advisor adviser David Axelrod told Haaretz after the Obama-Wiesel meeting that "Ahmadinejad has been the source of consternation for a long time and you can just add this one to the list."
Axelrod also said that the meeting between the Nobel laureate and the U.S. president had not been prompted by recent unease in Israel-U.S. ties, saying that Obama "and Eli Wiesel are good friends and they discussed a whole range of issues."
Axelrod added that "president Obama quite agrees that Jerusalem cannot be the first issue for negotiations."
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