Amid tensions, Obama, Netanyahu to speak at Middle East forum

President Obama will appear at a forum on Middle East policy this weekend moderated by Haim Saban, the billionaire Hollywood producer who hosted a Democratic fundraiser featuring the president at his Los Angeles home late last month.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will appear the following day at a three-day conference sponsored by the Brookings Institute.

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The dual appearances come at a tense time in U.S.-Israeli relations.

Netanyahu has criticized the recently brokered Iranian nuclear deal as a "historic mistake" and has argued that the deal would free Iran from sanctions that have crippled the country's economy without substantively halting its nuclear weapons program.

"Iran is essentially giving nothing and ... the air begins to be taken out of the pressure cooker that it took years to build in the sanctions regime," Netanyahu said last month. "What we're having today is a situation that Iran is giving up, at best, a few days of enrichment time, but the whole international regime's sanctions policy has the air taken out of it."

The Obama administration has defended the deal, saying that it would roll back the Iranian nuclear program. And White House press secretary Jay Carney has defended the deal as "absolutely the right approach" to test whether a peaceful solution was possible.

"There is no daylight between Israel and the United States, between the president and the prime minister, when it comes to the objective of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Carney said. "And all options remain on the table to achieve this objective."

The president is unlikely to face tough questions on the deal from Saban, who defended the deal while introducing the president at his home in November.

"We’re out of Iraq, we’re out of Afghanistan, and the military and intelligence cooperation with Israel — our staunchest ally in the Middle East, arguably in the world — has never been deeper, and the president’s commitment to Israel’s security has never been stronger," Saban said. "And if the Iranians are at the negotiating table today, make no mistake about it, it is only as a result of President Obama’s resolve in striking down the most strict sanctions ever."

Secretary of State John Kerry is in Jerusalem Thursday, lobbying Netanyahu to back off his vocal opposition to the deal.

Separately, the Palestinian Authority said Thursday it would not agree to proposals raised by Kerry in negotiations for an Israel-Palestine peace deal.

Kerry told reporters that, despite the rebuke, he believed "some progress" had been made in the talks.

"We have always known that this is a difficult, complicated road," Kerry said.