WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama said he has not given up hope for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but noted that simmering tensions in the region and "serious questions" about overall commitment have stifled progress.
In a wide-ranging interview Tuesday with the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Ashaq al-Awsat, Obama said peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is not only possible, but is in the national security interest of the United States as well. He said that is why the U.S. has worked so hard over the years for a two-state solution and to develop innovative ways to address Israeli security and Palestinian sovereignty needs.
Obama said he expects the new Israeli government and the Palestinians to demonstrate a genuine commitment to a two-state solution.
The U.S. president also answered questions about Thursday's summit at Camp David in Maryland with leaders and officials from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). At the summit, Obama is expected to solidify the U.S. alliance with Gulf nations and to promote his pending nuclear deal with Iran, while also focusing on other regional concerns such as growth of the Islamic State.
Obama told Ashaq al-Awsat that his deal with Iran aimed at preventing it from obtaining a nuclear weapon is "the best way to ensure the security of the region, including our GCC partners." He said countries in the region are right to be deeply concerned about Iran's activities, "especially its support for violent proxies inside the borders of other nations."
President Obama said he will discuss common challenges with GCC representatives, including working to resolve conflicts across the Middle East that have "taken so many innocent lives and caused so much suffering for the people of the region."
Of the six participating Gulf nations, only the emirs of Kuwait and Qatar will be present. Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Oman will send senior officials and not heads of state.
The White House dismissed reports that the absence of Gulf country leaders is a snub and will put a damper on talks aimed at strengthening the security relationship between the United States and the GCC. Some media reports have speculated that Gulf leaders are concerned Obama is conceding too much to Iran in his nuclear deal.
In his interview with Ashaq al-Awsat, Obama also talked about the situation in Iraq, saying international efforts to destroy the Islamic state will "take some time." He said the U.S.-led air campaign that includes Arab partners has halted the advance of Islamic State militants and has pushed them back in some places.
Obama also said the U.S. should not impose a military solution on Iraq, saying U.S. personnel are helping to train and strengthen Iraqi forces so they can be more effective.