Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Obama admin. trying to climb down the ladder -Clinton expected to call Netanyahu to ease tensions

(AFP, ABC, Ynet) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to talk very soon with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time since escalating a bitter diplomatic feud with the staunch US ally.

Officials said the call could come as early as Wednesday, as the Obama administration waits for Netanyahu's response to its complaints over Israeli settlement policy, which has provoked the sharpest US-Israel row in years.

But in a possible sign it wants to stop the row widening, the administration also said the dispute was an example of normal disagreements between friends, and would not shatter the "unbreakable bond" between the allies.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters he expected a conversation "very soon" between Clinton and Netanyahu.

Earlier, Clinton told reporters that Washington was engaged in "very active consultation" with the Israelis over steps that would demonstrate the requisite commitment to reviving peace talks on the part of the Netanyahu government.

Asked whether US Israeli ties had plunged to a 35-year-low, she answered "I don't buy that."

"We have an absolute commitment to Israel?s security. We have a close, unshakable bond between the United States and Israel and between the American Israeli people."

Clinton may meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the latter's visit to Washington next week. The two will address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday, and Netanyahu is interested in meeting Vice President Joe Biden as well. He will not meet with President Barack Obama, who is expected to be in the Far East during Netanyahu's visit.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley confirmed Tuesday that a meeting between Clinton and Netanyahu was possible, but did not say whether the meeting depended on Israel's response to Clinton's demands. A senior US official said the response would likely come in a telephone call from Netanyahu to Clinton before she leaves for Moscow on Wednesday.

Her remarks where echoed at the White House, where spokesman Robert Gibbs said the row was evidence that even two close partners could have disagreements.

"It does not break the unbreakable bond that we have with the Israeli government and the Israeli people on their security," Gibbs said.

The Israelis appeared keen to portray Washington's tone at least as a temporary suspension of hostilities.

"The State of Israel appreciates and cherishes the warm words from Secretary of State Clinton on the deep ties between the US and Israel and the US commitment to Israel's security," Netanyahu's office said.

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, Monday night that it's not true that Vice President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel's hardline position on building settlements in disputed territories is endangering the lives of US troop, as has been reported in the media, a White House official tells ABC News.

Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, as posted by Politico’s Laura Rozen, Israeli journalist Shimon Shiffer reported that, behind closed doors Biden told Netanyahu, “this is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”