WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama expressed concern for the well-being of Israel's three kidnapped teenagers in a meeting with outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres on Wednesday, telling him that, “Our hearts are with the families of the kidnapped boys and with the State of Israel."
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"From the moment the kidnapping took place, the United States has been coordinating with Israel," continued the president. "The United States will continue to help and do what it can to bring the kidnapped boys home."
Obama and Peres met Wednesday at the White House amid Israel's concerns about Iran's nuclear program. Peres told reporters after the meeting that the best solution is to remove Iran's nuclear apparatus from the country, the same way chemical weapons were removed from Syria.
Peres said Obama told him the US will maintain sanctions against Iran absent a comprehensive deal.
Obama also assured Peres that the United States would not "move an inch" on its support for Israel and would not allow Iran to become a nuclear power.
|Obama and Peres at the White House|
"President Obama also expressed our deep concern for the three missing Israeli teenagers, one of whom is also an American citizen," a US official told AFP.
Peres, who has a friendly relationship with Obama, in comparison to the sometimes tense ties the US leader has had with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is due to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington on Thursday.
Peres will be succeeded in the largely ceremonial position as president by Reuven Rivlin, a member of the ruling Likud party next month.
On Iraq's sectarian conflict, Peres says the Arab world should take the lead. He said it's not for the West to resolve a historical disagreement over who was the Prophet Muhammad's real heir. The centuries-old split between the Shia and Sunni denominations dates to the prophet's death and who should succeed him as leader of the Muslims.
Obama promised Peres that they would remain in touch even after the latter ends his presidential term in July.
Peres told Obama that he was ready to move on from his current role and that the presidency was a 'golden cage.' Obama said he understood the sentiment.
Obama told Peres that the hearts of the American people were with the 3 kidnapped Israeli teens, reassuring the Israeli president that the US would support the Jewish state throughout the ordeal.
Peres stressed to Obama that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was a partner for peace, noting that given the hardships in Gaza, Abbas was pushing for elections in the Palestinian Authority hoping that Fatah could regain control of the coastal strip.
For his part, the US president promised the out-going Israeli leader that the US would not "move an inch" on military aid to Israel and their joint security and intelligence cooperation. He reiterated that he would not allow Iran to achieve nuclear capabilities.
Obama and Peres held a private meeting with American Jewish community leaders, followed by a working lunch and an Oval Office meeting. On Thursday, Peres will be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor recognizing his lifelong dedication to the cause of peace.
The 90-year-old Peres is making his final foreign trip before leaving office next month. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has held nearly every major position in Israeli politics during his 65-year political career.
The role of Israeli president is largely ceremonial, with the office typically filled by a respected elder statesman who is expected to rise above politics.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.