National Security

White House downplays Netanyahu tensions ahead of US visit

Netanyahu, Obama, Israel
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The White House is downplaying the significance of President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strained relationship ahead of a highly-anticipated meeting next week.

Netanyahu is heading to Washington to mend fences with Obama following a heated public dispute over the Iran nuclear deal.

{mosads}The White House insisted that the differences between Obama and Netanyahu would have little bearing on their ability to strengthen U.S.-Israel ties.

“The personal relationship between the two men is both respectful and professional, but also, almost completely immaterial to the importance of the relationship between our two countries,” Obama spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday. “That is far more important than any sort of interpersonal dynamics.”

Netanyahu has been one of the staunchest critics of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program, the signature foreign policy initiative of Obama’s second term.

The Israeli leader ran a failed public campaign to kill the deal, which included a speech before Congress in March he made at the invitation of Republican leaders and without informing the White House.
 
The two leaders have also butted heads over the stalled peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The repeated public clashes between Netanyahu and Obama have led to concerns that longstanding bipartisan support for Israel could erode.

Netanyahu again drew the ire of Democrats by appointing a chief spokesman, Ran Baratz, who previously accused Obama of anti-Semitism and mocked Secretary of State John Kerry’s intelligence. Netanyahu suspended Baratz’s appointment on Thursday after he apologized for his past comments.

Earnest said it was “readily apparent” that an apology “was warranted.” He added that he does not anticipate that Baratz’s remarks would have an effect on the meeting.

U.S. and Israeli officials have been holding talks for months on a new 10-year defense agreement, as the current pact will expire in 2018. Obama and Netanyahu are expected to continue those talks next week.

The U.S. is likely to increase the $3 billion in military assistance Israel already receives, but Earnest lowered expectations for an announcement during Obama and Netanyahu’s meeting.

The White House is committed to making sure Israel maintains “a qualitative military edge in the region,” Earnest said.

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