Obama in peace offering call to Israeli PM


US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has spent an hour on the phone with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in an effort to ease tensions over differences on how to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive.

The phone call came after Washington made it clear the president would not schedule a meeting with Mr Netanyahu later this month, when the Israeli leader will be in New York to address the United Nations general assembly.

A White House statement following the Tuesday night telephone call said the two leaders agreed to continue “close consultations going forward” regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and reaffirmed that the two countries were “united in efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon”. But the phone call failed to appease Jerusalem, which believes Mr Obama’s refusal to meet Mr Netanyahu was a clear snub.

According to Israeli officials, Washington rejected an Israeli request for a meeting, either in New York or Washington, citing “scheduling conflicts”. However, a White House statement disputed that version of events. “There was never a request for Mr Netanyahu to meet with President Obama in Washington, nor was a request for a meeting ever denied,” the statement read.

At the heart of the bilateral tension is Israel’s insistence that Washington set “red lines” over Iran’s nuclear development. On Tuesday Mr Netanyahu said those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.

Yesterday, in a clear reference to the dispute with Washington, he said Israel’s greatest interest is to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. “I intend to uphold this interest, not that it’s easy, because leadership is tested even if there are disagreements with friends, even the best of friends. This is what I have done and this is what I will continue to do for the state of Israel and the security of its citizens.”

In what appeared to be a veiled criticism of Mr Netanyahu, defence minister Ehud Barak said preserving cordial relations with the US was essential, and that all disagreements should be handled quietly. “These differences should be smoothed over, between us, behind closed doors. We should not forget that the US is the main ally of Israel,” he said.

A more blatant attack on Mr Netanyahu came from Shaul Mofaz, the leader of the opposition, during a Knesset debate yesterday, when he accused him of favouring Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the November election. “Who are you trying to replace? The administration in Washington or that in Tehran?” he asked. “How far will you allow this deterioration in relations to continue? Prime minister, please tell me who our biggest enemy is: the US or Iran?”