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Does Obama-Netanyahu Meeting Signal Relationship Reset?


President Obama and Israeli prime minster Benjamin Netanyahu met today for the first time in more than a year. It was in the Oval Office, and the two sat side-by-side for what the president called a wide-ranging discussion of pressing security issues. As NPR's Scott Horsley reports, the meeting was widely seen as a chance to move beyond their bitter dispute over the Iran nuclear deal.




OBAMA: Thank you.

NETANYAHU: Thank you.

OBAMA: Thank you.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The two leaders sat before the Oval Office fireplace doing their best to look like allies. Obama and Netanyahu have never had a warm relationship, and it turned downright icy earlier this year when Netanyahu, along with congressional Republicans, tried to torpedo the president's nuclear talks with Iran. That effort failed, though. Now that the nuclear deal's in place, Obama says it's time to move on.


OBAMA: It's no secret that the prime minister and I have had a strong disagreement on this narrow issue. But we don't have a disagreement on the need to making sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon, and we don't have a disagreement about the importance of us blunting destabilizing activities that Iran may be taking place.

HORSLEY: Unlike some of their past meetings, the two leaders took care not to lecture one another in front of the cameras today. Instead, they both stressed the strong partnership between their countries and promised to work together to confront their common security challenges in an increasingly volatile Middle East. Martin Indyk, who's a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, says in that sense, the meeting was a success.

MARTIN INDYK: This was a meeting in which they would agree to bury the hatchet and not in each other's backs. There's business to be done, and I think they did it.

HORSLEY: That included a discussion of U.S. military aid to Israel, the chaotic situation in Syria and potential steps to lower the temperature between Israelis and Palestinians. Obama condemned the recent string of attacks by Palestinians on Israeli citizens.


OBAMA: It is my strong belief that Israel has not just the right but the obligation to protect itself.

HORSLEY: The White House has given up trying to broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians during what's left of Obama's time in office. Instead, the administration is simply trying to keep the hope of a two-state solution alive for a future president. At one point during his reelection campaign this year, Netanyahu vowed there would be no Palestinian state on his watch. Today, though, the prime minister insisted he's committed to the two-state goal.


NETANYAHU: I don't think that anyone should doubt Israel's determination to defend itself against terror and destruction. But neither should anyone doubt Israel's willingness to make peace with any of its neighbors that genuinely want to achieve peace with them.

HORSLEY: Netanyahu is also trying to make peace this week with Democrats, and his visit to Washington is something of a course correction. He's speaking tomorrow at a left-leaning think tank closely associated with the Obama administration. Middle East expert Natan Sachs says Netanyahu is trying to counter the impression that he's too closely aligned with the GOP.

NATAN SACHS: There is a very strong sense in Israel that the bipartisan support for Israel is eroding. And there's been a lot of criticism of Netanyahu for his mishandling of the relationship with the United States. Even Israelis who agree with him on Iran and disagree with the president don't like when their prime ministers argue with the United States.

HORSLEY: Beyond their clash of personalities, Netanyahu and Obama still have plenty of deep disagreements. For the moment, though, they're not arguing about them, at least not in public. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.