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    Obama, Netanyahu: US-Israel Bond 'Unbreakable'

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    • Interview with Ben Cohen, the American Jewish Committee

    U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say their countries' relationship is not strained and that the U.S.-Israel bond is "unbreakable."  The two leaders met at the White House Tuesday.  

    Of the issues discussed between the two leaders, one of the most important was the U.S.-Israeli relationship itself.

    After their meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu told reporters that the two countries' bond remains strong, despite several months of reported tensions between him and President Obama. "Reports about the demise of the special U.S.-Israeli relationship are not just premature, they are just flat wrong," he said.

    Mr. Obama used a phrase echoed by his Israeli counterpart in reaffirming the strength of the relationship. "The bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable," Mr. Obama said.

    Ben Cohen with the American Jewish Committee discusses the call for Israel-Palestinian direct talks:

    This was the first meeting between the two men since March 23, when Mr. Netanyahu was said to have received a chilly reception at the White House.  That meeting took place shortly after Israel announced, while U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting the country, that it planned to build new Jewish settlements in mainly Arab East Jerusalem.

    The prime minister postponed a scheduled June 1 follow-up visit to Washington after Israel's navy raided a Turkish-sponsored aid flotilla trying to break through an Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip.

    The blockade has eased in recent weeks to allow some humanitarian aid through.  President Obama on Tuesday praised the move. "I commended Prime Minister Netanyahu on the progress that has been made in allowing more goods into Gaza.  We have seen real progress on the ground.  I think it has been acknowledged that it has moved quickly and more effectively than many people anticipated," Mr. Obama said.

    Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu discussed the need to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts beyond the current "proximity" talks that U.S. envoy George Mitchell is mediating.

    President Obama said he and the Israeli leader agree about reviving direct talks that broke off in late-2008. "I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace.  I believe he is willing to take risks for peace.  And during our conversation, he once again reaffirmed his willingness to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians," he said.

    Prime Minister Netanyahu said he is committed to face-to-face talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "I think it is high time to begin direct talks.  I think with the help of President Obama, President Abbas and myself should engage in direct talks to reach a political settlement of peace, coupled with security and prosperity," he said.

    President Obama said he would like to see the direct talks start before the temporary freeze on Israeli settlement-building ends in September.

    Mr. Abbas has refused to negotiate directly with Israel until it stops building settlements on land the Palestinians claim for their own state.

    Mr. Netanyahu praised his host for putting pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear activities.  President Obama called the recent United Nations Security Council resolution against Iran the toughest sanctions ever, and referred to recent sanctions passed by the U.S. Congress as "robust."  

    The president said he will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine its security.

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