Obama Downplays Rift with Netanyahu

While defending his diplomatic overtures to Iran and criticizing Netanyahu, Obama reaffirmed US ties with Israel.

Kerry meets with Zarif in Vienna

US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) sits across from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna on July 13, 2014, before meeting on nuclear program. [State Department)

In the latest development in the quarrel between Washington and Jerusalem over a pending deal between the P5+1 powers and Iran, and in an apparent attempt to undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress on the Iranian nuclear threat, US President Barack Obama gave an exclusive interview to Reuters, stating that the Israeli leader’s speech would be a mistake.

Describing Netanyahu’s address to Congress as a “distraction” from the real issues at hand, Obama conceded that it was not “permanently destructive” to US-Israel diplomatic relations.

The American president began the interview by reaffirming US support for Israel. “I think it’s important to realize the depth of the US-Israeli relationship. Under my administration, billions of dollars have gone to support Israel’s security, including the Iron Dome program that has protected them from missiles firing along their borders. The military and intelligence cooperation is unprecedented.”

Saying the bond between Israel and the US was “unbreakable, Obama stressed that “we need to make clear how strong our alliance with Israel is.”

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Obama defended his diplomatic efforts to obtain an agreement with Iran as the proper venue to monitor Iran’s nuclear development.

Regarding Israel’s fears that Iran was developing weapons-grade capabilities, Obama said: “That’s not our estimation. That’s the estimation of the Netanyahu government.”

“Netanyahu made all sorts of claims,” he continued. “This was going to be a terrible deal. This was going to result in Iran getting 50 billion dollars worth of relief. Iran would not abide by the agreement. None of that has come true. It has turned out that in fact, during this period we’ve seen Iran not advance its program. In many ways, it’s rolled back elements of its program.”

Netanyahu and Susan Rice

PM Netanyahu and Susan Rice, US national security advisor, in Jerusalem on May 7, 2014. (Photo: Haim Zach/GPO/FLASH90)

Downplaying the tensions between himself and Netanyahu, he said the issues were not personal. “I think that it is important for every country in its relationship with the United States to recognize that the US has a process of making policy,” Obama declared.

The prospects of an agreement depend on Iran’s compliance, he added. “But if they do agree to it, it would be far more effective in controlling their nuclear program than any military action we could take, any military action Israel could take and far more effective than sanctions will be.”

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“Now, as a matter of policy, we think it’s a mistake for the prime minister of any country to come to speak before Congress a few weeks before they’re about to have an election. It makes it look like we are taking sides,” Obama said.

“I don’t think it’s permanently destructive, I think that it is a distraction from what should be our focus. And our focus should be: How do we stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?”

Last week, National Security adviser, Susan Rice, said that the visit would be “destructive to the fabric of the relationship” between the US and Israel.

By World Israel News Staff