No agreement on Iran, Palestinians in Obama-Netanyahu talks

US president Barak Obama stood by his demand for a Palestinian state while Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu continued to avoid this formula in their talks at the White House Monday, May 18, their first since both took office. Still the atmosphere in the three-and-a-half hour conversation was friendly and earnest as the two agreed to disagree.
Obama stressed that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat not only to Israel and the US but a destabilizing factor for the world and the region. However, he said he is in the process of reaching out to Iran and is confident he can persuade its leaders that a nuclear bomb is not in their interest either. He refused to set a deadline for their dialogue, and spoke of a few months. These talks can’t go on forever while Iran moves ahead with its nuclear program, he said adding: “At the end of the year we’ll see where we stand.”
Netanyahu was less sanguine: “A nuclear-armed Iran which calls for Israel’s destruction is unacceptable and would give terrorists a nuclear umbrella.”
The US president called on Israel to stick to the road map as “ratified at Annapolis” (which Netanyahu has rejected). However hard this is, he said, Israel must stop settlement activity. The Palestinians must fight terror. Obama pledged US involvement in peace talks as a strong partner.
Netanyahu said he was ready to start talks with the Palestinians immediately. He wanted the Palestinians to rule themselves, but peace means they must recognize Israel as a Jewish state with the right to defend itself and live in security.
The US president remarked that Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be constructively involved in the Israel-Palestinian peace track and do more to develop relations with Israel.
Following the White House summit, Netanyahu will hold talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and members of Congress.
He returns to Israel on Tuesday evening.

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