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US President Barack Obama
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Obama delivers calming message to Israel
US president tells Channel 2 Israel currently receives more aid than during any previous term, adds he is reaching out to Muslims to 'reduce antagonism' towards state. 'My middle name is Hussein, which creates suspicion,' he says

US President Barack Obama gave an interview to Channel 2 Wednesday night in which he said his administration had provided Israel with more aid than any other before it.

 

The president also told news anchor Yonit Levy that Iran and its nuclear program have been the US's first priority for the past 18 months. "I have said consistently that it is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon, (and) that we are going to do everything we can to prevent it from happening," Obama said.

 

In an interview aimed at assuring Israelis of the US's support, Obama ventured a guess as to why they were mistrustful of him. "Some of it may just be the fact that my middle name is Hussein, and that creates suspicion," he said.

 

"Ironically, I've got a Chief of Staff named Rahm Israel Emmanuel. My top political advisor is somebody who is a descendent of Holocaust survivors. My closeness to the Jewish American community was probably what propelled me to the US Senate."

 

Obama added that his direct appeals to the Muslim world may have also fostered some misgivings among the Israeli people.

 

"I think that sometimes, particularly in the Middle East, there's the feeling of the friend of my enemy must be my enemy, and the truth of the matter is that my outreach to the Muslim community is designed precisely to reduce the antagonism and the dangers posed by a hostile Muslim world to Israel and to the West," he said.  


Netanyahu, Obama in Washington (Photo: AFP)

 

Much of the interview was dedicated to the peace process with the Palestinians, and Obama said he believed an agreement could be reached during the term of his presidency.

 

Speaking of the "excellent" meeting he had with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, Obama said Israel must act fast, while moderate Palestinian leaders like President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad were in office.

 

"I think (Netanyahu) understands we've got a fairly narrow window of opportunity… We probably won’t have a better opportunity than we have right now. And that has to be seized. It’s going to be difficult," he said.

 

Obama also commended Netanyahu for his leadership qualities, and said the fact that he was not perceived as a peace "dove" may work in his favor during talks. "I think Prime Minister Netanyahu may be very well positioned to bring this about," he said.

 

He said he hoped Israelis would take advantage of the opportunity for peace. "Israel is going to have to overcome legitimate skepticism and more than legitimate fears, in order to get a change that I think will secure Israel for another 60 years," he said.

 

The US president also rejected reports that his meeting with the Israeli prime minister three months ago had bred conflict between the two states. He said there had been certain disagreements, especially on the issue of West Bank settlements, but that all in all the meeting had been conducted on good terms.

 

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