President Obama on Israel: ‘Part of Being a Good Friend Is Being Honest’

By Kate Barrett

Jun 2, 2009 7:15am

In an interview that aired last night and this morning, President Obama told NPR that in terms of the U.S. relationship with Israel, "part of being a good friend is being honest. And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory in the region, is profoundly negative – not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests. And that’s part of a new dialogue that I’d like to see encouraged in the region."

Later today the president will fly to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he will neet with King Abdullah, after which he will fly to Cairo, Egypt, to deliver a major address to the Muslim world. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process will be front and center on the agenda.

We're also told the president will discuss terrorism, oil prices, and Iran with King Abdullah. The president is expected to press Arab countries to formally  recognize Israel.

"I think that we do have to retain a constant belief in the possibilities of negotiations that will lead to peace," the president said. "And that’s going to require, from my view, a two-state solution that is going to require that each side – the Israelis and Palestinians – meet their obligations. "

The president as of late has been publicly expressing much more frustration with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel's settlement policy than he has with Bibi's Palestinian's counterparts.

"I’ve said very clearly to the Israelis both privately and publicly that a freeze on settlements, including natural growth, is part of those obligations," Mr. Obama said. "I’ve said to the Palestinians that their continued progress on security and ending the incitement that, I think, understandably makes the Israelis so concerned, that that has to be – those obligations have to be met. So the key is to just believe that that process can move forward and that all sides are going to have to give. And it’s not going to be an easy path, but one that I think we can achieve."

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and other Democrats in Congress have been expressing concern that the president's approach is not even-handed,

“My concern is that we are applying pressure to the wrong party in this dispute,” Berkley told Ben Smith of Politico. “I think it would serve America’s interest better if we were pressuring the Iranians to eliminate the potential of a nuclear threat from Iran, and less time pressuring our allies and the only democracy in the Middle East to stop the natural growth of their settlements.”

Berkely said that "when Congress gets back into session the administration is going to hear from many more members than just me."

“There’s a line between articulating U.S. policy and seeming to be pressuring a democracy on what are their domestic policies, and the president is tiptoeing right up to that line,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y, told Politico. “I would have liked to hear the president talk more about the Palestinian obligation to cut down on terrorism.”

Laura Rozen at Foreign Policy last week reported that Netanyahu seems flummoxed grousing, according to an associate, "What the hell do they want from me?"

Netanyahu, looking for "loopholes and hidden agreements that have often existed in the past with Washington," writes Rozen, is confused that the Obama administration's opposition to settlements has no wiggle room.

- jpt

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