GOP presidential frontrunner and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich Tuesday criticized Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for comments he made last Friday saying Israel needs to reach out to other countries to negotiate peace.
"Just get to the damn table," Panetta said. "Just get to the table."
Full coverage of those remarks, made Friday at the Brookings Institution's Saban Forum, can be read HERE .
Gingrich lumped those comments in with a speech given by U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman in which he differentiated anti-Semitism rooted in bigotry from that which he said was rooted in Israel's policies. (Read more about that HERE .)
"Barack Obama must tell the American people today whether he condemns or condones the deeply wrong statements by his Secretary of Defense and Ambassador to Belgium," Gingrich said. "We have the right to know whether Secretary Panetta's harsh criticism of Israel is merely his own personal opinion, or a reflection of the policy of his Commander in Chief. I have already called for the President to fire Ambassador Gutman due to his repugnant statements. On Monday, the Administration defended Gutman's remarks. So I also call on President Obama to answer today whether Gutman speaks for himself, or, as the United States' top official in Belgium, Gutman is speaking on behalf of the White House."
"The American people deserve to know today: Is it now permissible for American officials to flout official U.S. policy publicly, or do Panetta and Gutman speak for the entire Administration?" Gingrich asked.
Asked about Gingrich's statement, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said, "I haven't seen the report, but if that's what former Speaker Gingrich said, then I would encourage him to read the speech again and to read it closely. The speech was very clear, the Secretary said there's an unshakeable commitment to Israel's security and he noted that the US is willing to be a partner in forging a lasting peace in the middle east. He also said, and this is common sense, folks, it's common sense for Israel and other countries in the region, as well as the Palestinians to talk. And he did says that the Israeli's should look to mend fences."
Little continued: "We are strong allies with Israel. We stand by them. The secretary was simply noting in part of his speech that we should foster greater dialogue with the countries in the region and that Israel needs to do its part. It's as simple as that. It is not wrong and that's the rational way to go about forging lasting peace in the region. "
-Jake Tapper and Luis Martinez