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Obama, Netanyahu hail strong US-Israel bonds after row


Washington: President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed close US-Israeli ties today, during a tightly choreographed White House appearance designed to quiet disputes over Iran and Middle East peace.

Speaking at the Oval Office, Obama admitted it was “no secret” the two men disagreed on how to counter Iran’s nuclear program, but both sought to end bitter public rancor and focus on areas of cooperation, including a $30-billion-plus military deal.

The designed-for-television display of cordiality signaled Obama and Netanyahu’s willingness to avoid unnecessary drama in the last 12 months of working together.

Obama — who leaves office in early 2017 — offered the combative Israel Prime Minister a lengthy handshake and hailed the “extraordinary bond” between the two countries.

Obama said Israel’s security was a “top” foreign policy priority for his White House.

Officials told AFP the deal will include the sale of advanced US weapon systems, perhaps including hi-tech F-35 jets, precision munitions and V-22 Ospreys.

The deal will only come into effect after a current accord expires in 2017.

“We have closer military and intelligence cooperation than any two administrations in history,” Obama said.

Netanyahu reciprocated by trying to bury suggestions — fuelled by his own re-election campaign comments — that he does not support the creation of a Palestinian state.

For decades the prospect of a two state solution has been the bedrock of peace efforts. Netanyahu had infuriated the White House by suggesting that prospect was dead.

US officials feared such comments would only fuel Palestinians’ sense of skepticism about the political process and the type of violence that has engulfed Jerusalem.

“I want to make it clear that we have not given up our hope for peace. We’ll never give up our hope for peace,” Netanyahu said.

“I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two people’s, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.”

Senior US officials admit that a peace deal will not come during Obama’s final year in office, but they wanted Netanyahu to lay the groundwork for a return to the negotiating table.

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