President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed that peace talks with the Palestinians and ending Iran's nuclear threat are the two most important issues in the Middle East, but they disagreed on which is issue number one. Netanyahu called a nuclear armed Iran "the worst danger we face," because it would give a "nuclear umbrella" to terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and perhaps give the groups the nuclear weapons themselves. He thanked Mr. Obama for "leaving all options on the table" in preventing a nuclear armed Iran.
President Obama said if there's "a linkage" between Iran and Israeli-Palestinian peace, "I believe it runs the other way." He said to the extent Israel can make peace with the Palestinians "it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with the Iranian threat." Mr. Obama wants to open talks with Iran, believing the Bush administration's policy of isolation was non productive if not counterproductive. He suggested the talks should begin after Iran's elections in June and said "we should have a good sense by the end of the year if they're moving in the right direction," adding "we're not going to have talks forever." Aides say Iranian stonewalling would make it easier to build international support for tough sanctions.
The two men took questions from reporters after more than 3 hours of talks, their first official summit, and after opening statements in which they offered effusive praise to one another. Netanyahu called Obama a "great friend of Israel," and Mr. Obama said Netanyahu, who has served as Prime Minister before possessed "youth and wisdom," and had an "historic opportunity to get serious movement" during his tenure. They stressed areas of agreement, though there was no sign they bridged differences over support for the Palestinian state called for in current US Mideast policy.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said he's ready to resume peace talks with the Palestinians immediately, but that any agreement is contingent on their recognizing Israel "as a Jewish State." The latter language seemed to preclude the Palestinians' demand for the right to return to homes they occupied before Israel was created, which is recognized as the subject of negotiations even though it's understood no Israeli government would agree to it.
President Obama noted peace talks have stalled and he said "all the parties involved have to take seriously obligations that they have previously agreed to," a reference to Netanyahu's refusal to publicly endorse the creation of a Palestinian state, even though previous Israeli governments have done so. The Prime Minister said results are what matter and suggested the peace process would not be productive "if we end up with another Gaza," where members of the terrorist group Hamas seized control from moderate Palestinians in 2007. Israeli troops invaded the area in late 2008 to stop months of rocket attacks.
Wendell Goler serves as a senior White House and foreign affairs correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC), joining the network in 1996.