(JNS.org) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama met at the White House on Monday for the first time in more than a year in a bid to put aside past differences over Iran’s nuclear program and advance peace in the region.
"This is going to be an opportunity for the prime minister and myself to engage in a wide-ranging discussion on some of the most pressing security issues that both our countries face," Obama said before the meeting. "It's no secret that the security environment in the Middle East has deteriorated in many areas, and as I've said repeatedly, the security of Israel is one of my top foreign policy priorities. And that's expressed itself not only in words, but in deeds."
According to the White House, the two leaders planned to tackle regional security issues, including the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, how to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and countering Tehran’s destabilizing activities. They also discussed Israel’s relations with the Palestinians, the situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and achieving progress towards a two-state solution.
Another top goal for Netanyahu is securing a new military aid package for Israel. The current deal between Israel and the U.S., which provides $3 billion annually to Israel, is set to expire in 2017. The two sides had been negotiating a new deal last summer, but negotiations were halted following the Iran nuclear deal in July. Recent reports indicate that Israel is seeking as much as $5 billion annually in a new defense deal.
The meeting between Netanyahu and Obama is the first time the two leaders have met face-to-face in more than a year. Obama refused to meet with Netanyahu, who was re-elected in March, during the Israeli leader's visit to the U.S. that month to address a joint session of Congress over the dangers of the Iran nuclear deal. The White House cited the impending Israeli election as the official reason for not meeting Netanyahu, but it was clear that the White House was upset at Netanyahu’s Congress speech, which was planned without first consulting Obama.
At Monday's meeting, Obama referenced the differences over the Iran nuclear deal with Netanyahu, but said that both leaders are committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Netanyahu thanked Obama for his commitment to Israel’s security.
"We're with each other in more ways than one," Netanyahu said. "I think it’s rooted in shared values, and it’s buttressed by shared interests. And it’s driven forward by a sense of a shared destiny."
Obama also condemned the recent wave of terrorism in Israel, saying that it is his “strong belief that Israel has not just the right, but the obligation to protect itself."
Netanyahu assured Obama that he remains committed to see “two states for two peoples, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes a Jewish state.”
Netanyahu and Obama were joined in the Oval Office by Vice President Joe Biden, national security advisor Susan Rice, and respective ambassadors Ron Dermer and Daniel Shapiro.