President Obama appears to relate to the Israeli and Russian leaders in the same chilly manner.
Since the very beginning of his presidency, President Obama has kept Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at arm’s length. It is no secret that the two leaders dislike each other. Recently, however, the relationship reached a new low after Netanyahu was invited to speak before a joint session of Congress on the Iran nuclear issue and after Obama announced he would “reassess” the special, decades-long US-Israel relationship.
When it comes to relations with Obama, Netanyahu has been — elevated is not quite the right word — placed in rare company.
“I have a very businesslike relationship with the prime minister,” Obama declared Tuesday.
That appears to put Netanyahu on a par with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Over the past several months, Obama’s description of his interaction with Putin have evolved from “businesslike” in June to “businesslike and blunt” in November to “direct, blunt and businesslike” in December.
The term is diplomatic language for a less than cordial but not necessarily overly hostile relationship. After all, amid serious differences over Russian intervention in Ukraine, the US is still relying on Russian support to negotiate a deal that curtails Iran’s nuclear program.
“The president and his staff have a very troubling tendency to treat our allies like adversaries and adversaries like allies, which is why we are both less trusted by our friends and feared by our enemies today,” said Josh Block, president of the Israel Project, a pro-Israel education group based in Washington. .
The vibe between Netanyahu and Obama has never been one of close friends. But, as Obama noted Tuesday, he has met with him more than any other world leader. “I talk to him all the time,” he said.
“To me this means, you don’t have to like someone to work with them and get things done,” said Tommy Vietor, a former spokesman for Obama’s National Security Council.
Relations have cooled further since Netanyahu has been vocal in his criticism of the nuclear talks with Iran and since he declared that a Palestinian state would not be created as long as he was prime minister. But unlike the tensions with Russia, Israel remains a close US ally.
So at least with Netanyahu, Obama kept the relationship description at “very businesslike.” As for blunt and direct? Not there yet.