WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday evening and congratulated him on his victory in last week's elections, the White House said.
The White House said that during the conversation, which took place six days after the Likud-Beiteinu list won 31 Knesset seats in the elections, Obama pledged to work closely with Israel's next government on peace and security in the Middle East.
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"The president indicated that the United States looks forward to working with the next government," the White House said in a statement describing the telephone call between the two leaders.
Strained relations. Netanyahu and Obama (Archive photo: Amos Ben-Gershom, GPO)
"He also reiterated his commitment to the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel, and pledged to work closely with Israel on our shared agenda for peace and security in the Middle East," the statement said.
The hawkish Netanyahu emerged weakened by the election but is still poised to stay on as prime minister. That means Obama's counterpart in any peace efforts in his second term will most likely be Netanyahu, whose relationship with the president has been strained.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters, "It's important to understand two things. One, this country's commitment to Israel's security is unshakable, and it has been reflected in this administration's commitment to Israel's security, demonstrated by the very specific actions that are unprecedented that have been taken by this administration on behalf of Israel's security.
"It is also the case that in his first four years as president, there is no leader with whom President Obama had more conversations or more meetings than Prime Minister Netanyahu. They have an important working relationship. And that will continue to be the case, the president believes," he said.
"I don't want to get ahead of a process in Israel where, while the elections may be over (…) there are several stages to this (…) post-election process in Israel, and we will wait to see what the government formation process produces. But you know, these two leaders have spent a great deal of time together. They've spoken together many times. And they are able to work together and will continue to work together."
Meanwhile, Netanyahu met Mideast Quartet envoy Tony Blair on Monday. According to the Prime Minister's Office, Netanyahu said during the meeting that the developments in the Middle East do not stop because of elections and that he looks forward to working with Blair towards achieving peace and security in the region.
The Quartet's envoy said the sides face numerous challenges but he was certain they could be overcome with hard work and good will.
During the meeting, the PMO said, Blair criticized the cartoon denigrating Netanyahu published by the British Sunday Times, particularly because it was published on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Reuters, AP contributed to the report
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