Obama says Israel home plans not helpful for peace
In first reference to recent dispute over 1,600 new housing units near east Jerusalem, US president points finger at Interior Minister Yishai, but says issue has not led to a crisis with between countries. 'Friends are going to disagree sometimes,' he states
WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that Israeli plans to build more homes near east Jerusalem were not helpful for the Middle East peace process, but he said the issue had not led to a crisis with one of the United States' closest allies.
"Israel's one of our closest allies, and we and the Israeli people have a special bond that's not going to go away," Obama said in an interview on Fox News Channel's Special Report with Bret Baier.
"But friends are going to disagree sometimes," Obama said.
Israel touched off a spat with the Obama administration last week when it announced during a visit by US Vice President Joe Biden that it planned to build 1,600 more homes for Jews near east Jerusalem, angering Palestinians.
"I specifically sent Vice President Biden to Israel to send a message of support and reassurance about my belief that Israel’s security is sacrosanct and that we have a host of shared interests.
"There is a disagreement in terms of how we can move this peace process forward, and obviously when I sent Vice President Biden there it was at a moment where we were trying to restart talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis."
The American president pointed a finger at Interior Minister Eli Yishai, saying that "the actions that were taken by the interior minister in Israel weren’t helpful to that process. Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged as much and apologized for it.
"And what we’ve said is we need both sides to take steps to make sure that we can rebuild trust, and yesterday when there were riots by the Palestinians against a synagogue that had reopened, we condemned them in the same way because what we need right now is both sides to recognize that is in their interests to move this peace process forward," he concluded.
'Nuclear Iran could trigger arms race'
Moving on to the Iranian issue, Obama said a nuclear-armed Iran could trigger an arms race in the Middle East, something his administration wants to avoid.
Keeping Tehran without a nuclear weapon is one of my highest priorities, Obama said. Baier asked the president if a nuclear-armed Tehran would be a failure of his administration. Obama's reply was to emphasize work already under way among international partners to isolate Iran.
Iran has accelerated its nuclear program despite previous UN penalties, but the United States and some of its allies say a renewed demonstration of world resolve could finally push Iran to negotiate.