The Hot Mic Comments on Israel — Today’s Q’s for O’s WH — 11/9/2011

JAKE TAPPER: Jay, I understand you didn’t want to comment directly on the comments from the G-20, but I wanted to ask Ben:  Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement Tuesday — and obviously, a lot of Republicans have also, but I’ll — without getting into the politics of this — Foxman said that he was “deeply disappointed and saddened by the decidedly unpresidential exchange between President Sarkozy and Obama. President Obama’s response to Mr. Sarkozy implies that he agrees with the French leader when he called Netanyahu a liar.  And I was just wondering if you could explain the conversation, from the president’s perspective, and his opinion about President Sarkozy’s calling Prime Minister Netanyahu a liar.

DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS BEN RHODES:  Well, I mean, first — in the first instance, I’ll echo what Jay said, in that I don’t think we’re going to get into the details of this conversation.

I think what’s — what I will say that’s important to note is, first of all, throughout the course of the G-20, even as we’re dealing with a pressing economic crisis, the president was personally engaging foreign leaders to view his opinion that he opposed Palestinian membership in U.N. agencies.  He personally did register his view, not just with President Sarkozy  but with other leaders, that this was counterproductive — that unilateral Palestinian efforts at the U.N., whether it’s to seek full U.N. membership or membership in U.N. agencies — is counterproductive.  And so I think it speaks to his commitment to Israel’s security that he was doing that even in the context of a very pressing and urgent economic crisis.

As it relates to Israel, he has a very close working relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  They speak very regularly. I think they’ve probably spent more time one on one than any other leader that the president has engaged in.  That’s rooted in the fact that the U.S. and Israel share a deep security relationship, but also a values-based relationship.

And I think — I think our actions speak very loudly, which is that this president has taken security cooperation with Israel to unprecedented levels.  He has stood up time and again against delegitimization of Israel — whether it’s the Goldstone report, the flotilla or, of course, most recently, Palestine efforts to see unilateral measures at the U.N. to shortcut negotiations.

So our record speaks very clearly about the president’s commitment to Israel, and he, again, I think, has maintained a very close working relationships with Prime Minister Netanyahu where they’ve been able to communicate clearly on these issues.

And insofar as these matters — insofar as the Middle East came up at all at the G-20, it was President Obama raising with other leaders his opposition to Palestinian membership in U.N. agencies.

TAPPER:  I understand that’s what you want to talk about, but the other part of it is Sarkozy insulting Netanyahu and President Obama saying something along the lines of, “You think it’s bad?  I have to deal with him every day” — again, getting into that close working relationship that you just referred to, I suppose.  I’m wondering: Has there been any attempt by the White House or the State Department to reach out to Netanyahu to explain this away, to smooth it over? It’s obviously been covered quite a bit in the European media and the Israeli media.

RHODES:  Again, I — you know, we’re — what we have here is, you know, reports of a — of a private conversation that, you know, we’re not going to comment on the details of.  We communicate at a variety of levels with the Israeli government on a near daily basis.

So I think it’s certainly the case that we’re in contact with them about a lot of pressing issues.  I think, frankly, you know, in the context of the coming days, we’ll be consulting with them about not just the ongoing issues at the U.N. but about a very important IAEA report on the Iranian nuclear program.

So it’s certainly true that we’re going to be in close contact at a variety of levels with the Israeli government, and I think that speaks to the depth of our relationship.

-Jake Tapper

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