Netanyahu, Obama talk Mideast peace, Iran nuclear standoff
U.S. President reiterates 'unshakable commitment to Israel’s security' in phone conversation; Abbas to visit Europe next week as Quartet deadline on resumption of talks draws near.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama discussed recent developments in the Mideast peace process as well as the West’s continuing standoff with Iran in a phone conversation on Thursday.
The talk came amid recent Jordan-mediated attempts to revive talks between Israel and the Palestinian, with Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho and top Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat meeting in Amman.
On Tuesday, the White House announced that Obama will host King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House next Tuesday, in an effort to advance a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
According to a White House statement, Obama and King Abdulla II will discuss "a broad range of bilateral and regional economic and security issues during their Oval Office meeting," including their "shared goal of a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians."
On Thursday, the White House reported the premier discussed recent developments with the American president, saying the two leaders “reviewed the recent meetings between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Amman and the President reaffirmed his commitment to the goal of a comprehensive and lasting peace in the region.”
“The two leaders also discussed recent Iran-related developments, including the international community’s efforts to hold Iran accountable for its failures to meet its international obligations,” the statement added, saying that Obama “reiterated his unshakable commitment to Israel’s security, and the President and the prime minister promised to stay in touch in the coming weeks on these and other issues of mutual concern.”
Meanwhile, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked repeatedly in a briefing Thursday whether the U.S. administration can say "unequivocally" that Israel had nothing to do with the assassination of the Iranian scientist on Wednesday.
"Obviously we don't speak for any other country", Carney replied. "We had nothing to do with it. This has been expressed by officials at a variety of levels of the U.S. government. And we condemn the act of violence in Iran, but we're not speaking for any other country when we make statements like that.
When pressed further whether President Obama addressed this issue in his phone conversation with the Israeli Prime Minister, Carney said: "It's part of their regular communications on bilateral and regional issues. The subjects were many, including the Middle East peace process, developments in the region, including in Iran. But I won't get more specific than that".
Referring to ongoing efforts to revive Mideast peace talks, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the U.S. administration doesn’t want to push the sides to adhere to the strict deadline outlined at the Quartet statement.
"Although this January 26th date has been out there, we do not want to see it be a rigid sort of straitjacket which chills the atmosphere", she said, adding that the date “was a proposal made by the Quartet. It was illustrative of what we wanted to see happen.”
“So it's really incumbent on the parties now to do the hard work to fill out the rest of the game plan through 2012. We don't want them or anybody else to get so fixated on the date that it chills the mood. We want them to keep going on the hard work that they're doing together,” she said.
The top U.S. official added that Washington doesn’t accept the claim it "outsourced" dealing with the conflict to Jordan, saying the U.S. “intensively involved with both sides", Nuland said.
"The president himself spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu today. We are doing our best to play our role, to encourage this effort. The Jordanians are obviously playing a vital role. But what's most important is that in that room, the parties are talking to each other. And it's also frankly a good thing that they're talking to each other without having to have all of us sit with them.”
Also Thursday, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the official Palestinian news agency WAFA that Abbas was to embark on a tour of Europe next week, with a meeting scheduled with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron as soon as Sunday.
Abbas’ planned tour to the U.K., Germany, and Russia comes as a Jan. 26 Quartet deadline for the resumption of peace talks looms nearer, and following remarks by the Palestinian president concerning “measures” the Palestinians would take against Israel if this most recent attempt to revive negotiations fails.
Speaking last week, Abbas said that if Israel accepts the Palestinian conditions, “we will go to negotiations.” He said the Palestinians have set a Jan. 26 deadline for talks to resume. “After that date, we will take new measures. These measures might be hard,” Abbas added.
Mr. Abbas said no decision has been made yet. But Palestinian officials have said they are considering resuming their push for UN membership as well as ways to isolate Israel at the United Nations, such as a new resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.