Two Meetings, but No Agreement Between Obama and Netanyahu

Israeli and American leaders could not even agree on a joint statement after their White House talks.

WASHINGTON - The meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday did not resolve the differences of opinion on the future of the peace process with the Palestinians or Israeli construction in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu canceled a series of interviews and briefings with the American media, scheduled for Wednesday morning, in order to focus on the serious disagreements with the Obama administration.

Netanyahu arrived at the White House at 5:30 P.M. local time Tuesday, and held one on one talks with Obama for an hour and a half. The meeting ended in serious disagreement; after the talks - in an unprecedented move - Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and their advisers retired to a side room in the White House for consultations, while Obama left for his residential quarters. Some 90 minutes later, Netanyahu requested a second meeting with the president, who returned to the Oval Office for a further half-hour conversation with the prime minister.

Late night talks

But the second meeting between the two also ended in disagreement, and they could not even reach a consensus on a joint statement. Netanyahu and Ehud Barak then left the White House for the Israeli embassy in Washington, leaving the prime minister's aides, Yitzhak Molcho, Ron Dermer and Nir Chefetz, as well as Ambassador Michael Oren, to hold talks with Obama's people. Only at 2 A.M. did these consultations end, and Netanyahu and his entourage return to their hotel.

In the wake of such serious disagreements, and the need to continue the lower-level consultations Wednesday morning, Netanyahu canceled his media appearances.

Sources in Netanyahu's entourage said that the day had been devoted solely to talks with senior American officials, led by Molcho and Dermer. Netanyahu was set to meet special envoy George Mitchell on Wednesday, and he and Barak were to spend the day at the Israeli embassy.

"The objective is to reach understandings with the American administration before we take off for Israel," said a source in the Netanyahu camp.

Nevertheless, it is unclear when Netanyahu would board a plane for home. Apparently this will happen Wednesday evening, Washington time, at the earliest.