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Obama, Netanyahu: Resetting the relationship. Obama to Israel later this month

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WASHINGTON -- After years of strained relations, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- both just re-elected -- may be able to press the reset button when Obama heads to Israel later this month -- united against the growing threat of Iran gaining nuclear capability.

Against this backdrop, Vice President Joe Biden and Netanyahu delivered separate speeches on Monday at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference that touched on Obama's visit. AIPAC is a giant pro-Israel lobby group.

Netanyahu spoke via a satellite hookup -- he usually attends the AIPAC conference in person -- because he is bogged down by his own internal politics. After winning the Jan. 22 election, Netanyahu got a two-week extension last Saturday night to form a governing coalition, which has proved difficult.

"Believe me, it's a lot easier finding common ground between two parties than it is to find common ground among 10 parties," Netanyahu joked. "You think you have a difficulty working out your politics. Believe me, this is harder."

During the U.S. election, Netanyahu was seen in Mitt Romney's camp. Obama had to continuously prove his pro-Israel credentials. Obama's choice of Chuck Hagel for Defense secretary left a sour taste in some pro-Israel precincts in part because of Hagel's weak record on Iran sanctions.

Obama's Israel trip -- to include stops in the West Bank and Jordan -- is the first foreign trip of his second term and should put to rest the complaint that he never visited Israel as president.

Netanyahu said, "The first thing that my new government will have the privilege of doing is to warmly welcome President Obama to Israel. I look forward to the president's visit. It will give me an opportunity, along with the people of Israel, to express our appreciation for what he has done for Israel."

"The president and I agreed to focus our discussions on three main issues: first, Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons; second, the deteriorating situation in Syria, and third, the need to find a responsible way to advance the peace with the Palestinians," Netanyahu said.

These three issues are not equal in importance, and Iran is the priority, because a nuclear attack could wipe Israel off the map. Netanyahu said diplomacy is not working and Iran is "running out the clock . . . to buy time to press ahead with its nuclear program."

Biden, who spoke before Netanyahu, restated Obama's position: that all Iran options, including using military force, are on the table.

"And President Barack Obama is not bluffing," Biden said.

Before any Iranian strike, Biden said, Obama would have to make it clear to the international community that every other option had been tried.

Biden said, if "God forbid, if we have to act, it's important that the rest of the world is with us."

Biden and Netanyahu used their AIPAC speeches to make nice -- paving the way for a new start when Obama gets to Jerusalem in a few weeks.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on March 4, 2013 9:02 PM.

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