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REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA AND PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU OF ISRAEL IN JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE - History

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA AND PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU OF ISRAEL IN JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE - History


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Prime Minister’s Residence
Jerusalem

8:30 P.M. IDT

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Mr. President, Barack, it’s a great pleasure for me to host you here in Jerusalem. You’ve graciously hosted me many times in Washington, so I'm very pleased to have this opportunity to reciprocate. I hope that the goodwill and warmth of the people of Israel has already made you feel at home.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Very much so.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: We had an opportunity today to begin discussing the wide range of issues that are critical to both our countries. And foremost among these is Iran’s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. Mr. President, you have made it clear that you are determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. I appreciate your forthright position on this point. I also appreciate that you have noted -- that you have acted to thwart the threat both through determined diplomacy and strong sanctions that are getting stronger yet.

Notwithstanding our joint efforts and your great success in mobilizing the international community, diplomacy and sanctions so far have not stopped Iran’s nuclear program. And as you know, my view is that in order to stop Iran’s nuclear programs peacefully, diplomacy and sanctions must be augmented by a clear and credible threat of military action.

In this regard, Mr. President, I want to thank you once again for always making clear that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. I deeply appreciate those words because they speak to the great transformation that has occurred in the life of the Jewish people with the rebirth of the Jewish state. The Jewish people only two generations ago were once a powerless people, defenseless against those who sought our destruction. Today we have both the right and the capability to defend ourselves.

And you said earlier today, the essence of the State of Israel, the essence of the rebirth of the Jewish state is we've fulfilled the age-old dream of the Jewish people to be masters of our fate in our own state. I think that was a wonderful line that I will cherish because it really gets down to the essence of what this state is about. That is why I know that you appreciate that Israel can never cede the right to defend ourselves to others, even to the greatest of our friends. And Israel has no better friend than the United States of America. So I look forward to continuing to work with you to address what is an existential threat to Israel and a grave threat to the peace and security of the world.

Mr. President, we discussed today the situation in Syria. We share the goal of seeing a stable and peaceful Syria emerge from the carnage that we have witnessed over the last two years. That carnage has already resulted in the deaths of over 70,000 people and the suffering of millions. We also share a determination to prevent the deadly arsenal of weapons within Syria from falling into the hands of terrorist hands. And I have no doubt that the best way to do that is to work closely with the United States and other countries in the region to address this challenge. And that is what we intend to do.

Finally, Mr. President, your visit gave us an opportunity to try to find a way to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians. My new government was sworn in two days ago. I know there have been questions regarding what the policy of the new government will be towards peace with the Palestinians. So let me be clear. Israel remains fully committed to peace and to the solution of two states for two peoples. We extend our hand in peace and in friendship to the Palestinian people.

I hope that your visit, along with the visit of Secretary of State Kerry, will help us turn a page in our relations with the Palestinians. Let us sit down at the negotiating table. Let us put aside all preconditions. Let us work together to achieve the historic compromise that will end our conflict once and for all.

Let me conclude, Mr. President, on a personal note. I know how valuable the time and the energy is of the American President, of yourself. This is the 10th time that we have met since you became President and since I became Prime Minister. You’ve chosen Israel as your first venue in your visit, your foreign visit in your second term. I want to thank you for the investment you have made in our relationship and in strengthening the friendship and alliance between our two countries. It is deeply, deeply appreciated.

You’ve come here on the eve of Passover. I've always considered it as our most cherished holiday. It celebrates the Jewish people's passage from slavery to freedom. Through the ages it has also inspired people struggling for freedom, including the Founding Fathers of the United States. So it’s a profound honor to host you, the leader of the free world, at this historic time in our ancient capital.

Mr. President, welcome to Israel. Welcome to Jerusalem. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you.

Well, thank you, Prime Minister Netanyahu, for your kind words and for your wonderful welcome here today. And I want to express a special thanks to Sara as well as your two sons for their warmth and hospitality. It was wonderful to see them. They are -- I did inform the Prime Minister that they are very good-looking young men who clearly got their looks from their mother. (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, I can say the same of your daughters. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: This is true. Our goal is to improve our gene pool by marrying women who are better than we are.

Mr. Prime Minister, I want to begin by congratulating you on the formation of your new government. In the United States, we work hard to find agreement between our two major parties. Here in Israel, you have to find consensus among many more. And few legislatures can compete with the intensity of the Knesset. But all of this reflects the thriving nature of Israel’s democracy.

As Bibi mentioned, this is our 10th meeting. We’ve spent more time together, working together, than I have with any leader. And this speaks to the closeness of our two nations, the interests and the values that we share, and the depth and breadth of the ties between our two peoples.

As leaders, our most solemn responsibility is the security of our people -- that’s job number one. My job as President of the United States, first and foremost, is to keep the American people safe. Bibi, as Prime Minister, your first task is to keep the people of Israel safe. And Israel’s security needs are truly unique, as I’ve seen myself. In past trips I visited villages near the Blue Line. I’ve walked through Israeli homes devastated by Hezbollah rockets. I’ve stood in Sderot, and met with children who simply want to grow up free from fear. And flying in today, I saw again how Israel’s security can be measured in mere miles and minutes.

As President, I’ve, therefore, made it clear America’s commitment to the security of the State of Israel is a solemn obligation, and the security of Israel is non-negotiable.

Today, our military and intelligence personnel cooperate more closely than ever before. We conduct more joint exercises and training than ever before. We’re providing more security assistance and advanced technology to Israel than ever before. And that includes more support for the missile defenses like Iron Dome, which I saw today and which has saved so many Israeli lives.

In short -- and I don’t think this is just my opinion, I think, Bibi, you would share this -- America’s support for Israel’s security is unprecedented, and the alliance between our nations has never been stronger.

That’s the sturdy foundation we built on today as we addressed a range of shared challenges. As part of our long-term commitment to Israel’s security, the Prime Minister and I agreed to begin discussions on extending military assistance to Israel. Our current agreement lasts through 2017, and we’ve directed our teams to start working on extending it for the years beyond.

I’m also pleased to announce that we will take steps to ensure that there’s no interruption of funding for Iron Dome. As a result of decisions that I made last year, Israel will receive approximately $200 million this fiscal year and we will continue to work with Congress on future funding of Iron Dome. These are further reminders that we will help to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge so that Israel can defend itself, by itself, against any threat.

We also discussed the way forward to a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. And I very much welcomed Bibi’s words before I spoke. I’ll be meeting with President Abbas tomorrow, and I will have more to say on this topic in the speech that I deliver to the Israeli people tomorrow. But for now, let me just reiterate that a central element of a lasting peace must be a strong and secure Jewish state, where Israel’s security concerns are met, alongside a sovereign and independent Palestinian state.

In this regard, I’d note that last year was a milestone -- the first year in four decades when not a single Israeli citizen lost their life because of terrorism emanating from the West Bank. It’s a reminder that Israel has a profound interest in a strong and effective Palestinian Authority. And as the Prime Minister’s new government begins its work, we’ll continue to look for steps that both Israelis and Palestinians can take to build trust and confidence upon which lasting peace will depend.

We also reaffirmed the importance of ensuring Israel’s security given the changes and uncertainty in the region. As the United States supports the Egyptian people in their historic transition to democracy, we continue to underscore the necessity of Egypt contributing to regional security, preventing Hamas from rearming and upholding its peace treaty with Israel.

With respect to Syria, the United States continues to work with allies and friends and the Syrian opposition to hasten the end of Assad’s rule, to stop the violence against the Syrian people, and begin a transition toward a new government that respects the rights of all its people.

Assad has lost his legitimacy to lead by attacking the Syrian people with almost every conventional weapon in his arsenal, including Scud missiles. And we have been clear that the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people would be a serious and tragic mistake. We also share Israel’s grave concern about the transfer of chemical or other weapon systems to terrorists -- such as Hezbollah -- that might be used against Israel. The Assad regime must understand that they will be held accountable for the use of chemical weapons or their transfer to terrorists.

And finally, we continued our close consultation on Iran. We agree that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to the region, a threat to the world, and potentially an existential threat to Israel. And we agree on our goal. We do not have a policy of containment when it comes to a nuclear Iran. Our policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

We prefer to resolve this diplomatically, and there’s still time to do so. Iran’s leaders must understand, however, that they have to meet their international obligations. And, meanwhile, the international community will continue to increase the pressure on the Iranian government. The United States will continue to consult closely with Israel on next steps. And I will repeat: All options are on the table. We will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from getting the world’s worst weapons.

Meeting none of these challenges will be easy. It will demand the same courage and resolve as those who have preceded us.

And on Friday, I’ll be honored to visit Mount Herzl and pay tribute to the leaders and soldiers who have laid down their lives for Israel. One of them was Yoni Netanyahu. And in one of his letters home, he wrote to his family, “Don’t forget -- strength, justice, and staunch resolution are on our side, and that is a great deal.”

Mr. Prime Minister, like families across Israel, you and your family have served and sacrificed to defend your country and to pass it, safe and strong, to your children just as it was passed on to you. Standing here today, I can say with confidence that Israel’s security is guaranteed because it has a great deal on its side, including the unwavering support of the United States of America. (Applause.)

Q Mr. President, may I ask you about Syria, a practical question and a moral one? Morally, how is it possible that for the last two years, tens of thousands of innocent civilians are being massacred and no one -- the world, the United States and you -- are doing anything to stop it immediately? On a practical level, you have said today and also in the past that the use of chemical weapons would be a crossing of a red line. It seems like this line was crossed yesterday. What specifically do you intend to do about it?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I'll answer the question in reverse order, if you don't mind. I'll talk about the chemical weapons first and then, the larger question.

With respect to chemical weapons, we intend to investigate thoroughly exactly what happened. Obviously, in Syria right now you've got a war zone. You have information that's filtered out, but we have to make sure that we know exactly what happened -- what was the nature of the incident, what can we document, what can we prove. So I've instructed my teams to work closely with all of the countries in the region and international organizations and institutions to find out precisely whether or not this red line was crossed.

I will note, without at this point having all the facts before me, that we know the Syrian government has the capacity to carry out chemical weapon attacks. We know that there are those in the Syrian government who have expressed a willingness to use chemical weapons if necessary to protect themselves. I am deeply skeptical of any claim that, in fact, it was the opposition that used chemical weapons. Everybody who knows the facts of the chemical weapon stockpiles inside Syria as well as the Syrian government's capabilities I think would question those claims. But I know that they're floating out there right now.

The broader point is, is that once we establish the facts I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game changer. And I won't make an announcement today about next steps because I think we have to gather the facts. But I do think that when you start seeing weapons that can cause potential devastation and mass casualties and you let that genie out of the bottle, then you are looking potentially at even more horrific scenes than we've already seen in Syria. And the international community has to act on that additional information.

But as is always the case when it comes to issues of war and peace, I think having the facts before you act is very important.

More broadly, as I said in my opening statement, I believe that the Assad regime has lost all credibility and legitimacy. I think Assad must go -- and I believe he will go. It is incorrect for you to say that we have done nothing. We have helped to mobilize the isolation of the Assad regime internationally. We have supported and recognized the opposition. We have provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support for humanitarian aid. We have worked diligently with other countries in the region to provide additional tools to move towards a political transition within Syria.

If your suggestion is, is that I have not acted unilaterally militarily inside of Syria, well, the response has been -- or my response would be that, to the extent possible, I want to make sure that we're working as an international community to deal with this problem, because I think it’s a world problem, not simply a United States problem, or an Israel problem, or a Turkish problem. It’s a world problem when tens of thousands of people are being slaughtered, including innocent women and children.

And so we will continue to work in an international framework to try to bring about the kind of change that's necessary in Syria. Secretary Kerry has been working nonstop since he came into his current position to try to help mobilize and organize our overall efforts, and we will continue to push every lever that we have to try to bring about a resolution inside of Syria that respects the rights and the safety and security of all people, regardless of whatever sectarian lines currently divide Syria.

Last point I'll make, which is probably obvious, is this is not easy. When you start seeing a civil war that has sectarian elements to it, and you’ve got a repressive government that is intent on maintaining power, and you have mistrust that has broken out along sectarian lines, and you have an opposition that has not had the opportunity or time to organize itself both politically as well as militarily, then you end up seeing some of the devastation that you’ve been seeing. And we're going to do everything we can to continue to prevent it. And I know that the vast majority of our international partners feel the same way.

Q Yes, thank you. There was some friendly banter between you two gentlemen on the tarmac today about red lines, and I'm wondering how much of a serious matter that actually became in your talks and will be in your talks to come tonight. President Obama has said it will take Iran at least a year to build a bomb. That's months longer than the Prime Minister believes.

Mr. President, are you asking the Prime Minister to be more patient, to hold off for at least a year on any kind of military action against Iran?

Mr. Prime Minister, has President Obama’s words -- have they convinced you that he is putting forth the credible military threat that you have repeatedly asked for, or there’s a need to go further? Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Bibi, why don't you go -- take a first swing at this.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Well, first of all, there are so many strips of different colors on the tarmac that we -- (laughter) -- we did have a joke about that. But obviously this matter is no joke. It relates to our very existence and to something also that the President correctly identified as a grave strategic threat to the United States and to the peace and security of the world.

I'm absolutely convinced that the President is determined to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And I appreciate that. And I also appreciate something that he said, which I mentioned in my opening remarks, that the Jewish people have come back to their own country to be the masters of their own fate. And I appreciate the fact that the President has reaffirmed -- more than any other President -- Israel’s right and duty to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. We just heard those important words now, and I think that sums up our -- I would say -- our common view.

Iran is a grave threat to Israel, a grave threat to the world -- a nuclear Iran. The United States is committed to deal with it. Israel is committed to deal with it. We have different vulnerabilities, obviously, and different capabilities. We take that into account. But what we do maintain -- and the President I think is the first to do so -- is that Israel has a right to independently defend itself against any threat, including the Iranian threat.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think the only thing I would add is that our intelligence cooperation on this issue, the consultation between our militaries, our intelligence, is unprecedented, and there is not a lot of light, a lot of daylight between our countries’ assessments in terms of where Iran is right now.

I think that what Bibi alluded to, which is absolutely correct, is each country has to make its own decisions when it comes to the awesome decision to engage in any kind of military action, and Israel is differently situated than the United States. And I would not expect that the Prime Minister would make a decision about his country’s security and defer that to any other country -- any more than the United States would defer our decisions about what was important for our national security.

I have shared with Bibi, as I've said to the entire world, as I've said to the Iranian people and Iranian leaders, that I think there is time to resolve this issue diplomatically. The question is, will Iranian leadership seize that opportunity? Will they walk through that door?

And it would be in everybody’s interests -- not just Israel’s interests, not just the United States’ interests -- it would be in the interest of the Iranian people if this gets resolved diplomatically. Because the truth of the matter is, is that the most permanent solution to the Iranian situation is ultimately going to be their decision that it is not worth it for them to pursue nuclear weapons. That will be the lasting change. If we can get that, that's good for everybody, including Iran, because it would allow them to break out of the isolation that has hampered their society and their economic development for many years.

But I don't know whether they're going to be willing to take that step. And obviously, their past behavior indicates that, in the words of -- or a play on words on what Ronald Reagan said -- we can't even trust yet, much less verify. But we do have to test the proposition that this can be resolved diplomatically. And if it can't, then I’ve repeated to Bibi what I've said publicly, and that is, is that we will leave all options on the table in resolving it.

Q Mr. Prime Minister, do you agree or disagree with the President’s one-year assessment?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: We have another question.

Q Welcome, Mr. President. On your way back to Washington on Friday, what will you consider a successful visit? Convincing the Israeli leaders that they can rely on you on the Iranian issue, especially that they learned that there are differences between Israel and the United States concerning the enrichment of the Iranian -- or convincing both sides -- Israelis and the Palestinians -- to revive the floundering negotiation, reviving the peace process, the floundering peace process?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, my main goal on this trip has been to have an opportunity to speak directly to the Israeli people at a time when obviously what was already a pretty tough neighborhood has gotten tougher, and let them know that they've got a friend in the United States, that we have your back; that we consider Israel's security of extraordinary importance to us, not just because of the bonds between our peoples but also because of our own national security interest.

In that context, what I have also sought to achieve here is further consultations, building on what we've already discussed
-- as Bibi has just formed a new government, as I am entering my second term -- that we continue to have close consultation around some of these shared interests that we've already discussed, Iran being obviously a prominent shared concern. I want to make sure that the Israeli people and the Israeli government consistently understand my thinking and how I'm approaching this problem. And I want to understand how the Israeli government and the Prime Minister is approaching this problem to make sure that there are no misunderstandings there.

With respect to the peace process, as I said, I'll have more to say about this tomorrow. But I think you are absolutely right that over the last year, year and a half, two years, two and a half years, we haven't gone forward. We haven't seen the kind of progress that we would like to see.

There's some elements of good news. I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that even with all that's been happening in the region, the Palestinian Authority has worked effectively in cooperation with the international community -- in part because of some of the training that we, the United States, provided -- to do its part in maintaining security in the West Bank. We have seen some progress when it comes to economic development and opportunity for the Palestinian people.

But the truth of the matter is trying to bring this to some sort of clear settlement, a solution that would allow Israelis to feel as if they've broken out of the current isolation that they're in, in this region, that would allow the incredible economic growth that's taking place inside this country to be a model for trade and commerce and development throughout the region at a time when all these other countries need technology and commerce and jobs for their young people, for Palestinians to feel a sense that they, too, are masters of their own fate, for Israel to feel that the possibilities of rockets raining down on their families has diminished -- that kind of solution we have not yet seen.

And so what I want to do is listen, hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu -- tomorrow, I'll have a chance to hear from Abu Mazen -- to get a sense from them, how do they see this process moving forward. What are the possibilities and what are the constraints, and how can the United States be helpful? And I purposely did not want to come here and make some big announcement that might not match up with what the realities and possibilities on the ground are. I wanted to spend some time listening before I talked -- which my mother always taught me was a good idea.

And so, hopefully -- I'll consider it a success if when I go back on Friday, I'm able to say to myself I have a better understanding of what the constraints are, what the interests of the various parties are, and how the United States can play a constructive role in bringing about a lasting peace and two states living side by side in peace and security.

Q Thank you, Mr. President; Mr. Prime Minister.

Mr. President, I'm going to follow up a little bit on the peace process. You began your term, your first term, big fanfare -- Cairo speech to talk to the Muslim world, the decision to have a Middle East envoy early. You said you weren't going to let this slip to your second term. We're in your second term with the Middle East peace process. What went wrong? Why are we further away from a two-state solution? I know you said you want to talk more about this tomorrow, but I am curious. What do you believe went wrong? Did you push Israel too hard? What do you wish you would have done differently?

And, Mr. Prime Minister, I want to help out my colleague over here on the follow-up that he had, which had to do with do you accept the President's understanding that Iran is a year away when it comes to nuclear weapons? And another question I had for you --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Chuck, how many have you got? Do you guys do this in the Israeli press -- you say you get one question and then you add like five?

Q Well, I'm helping him. I'm helping him with his --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You see how the young lady from Channel One, she had one question. She was very well-behaved, Chuck.

Q I had that one for you and -- (laughter) --

PRIME NETANYAHU: These are commuted questions they have. (Laughter.)

Q Apparently -- I thought I had four questions.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Reiterations.

Q Passover starts in a couple of days. (Laughter.) I get four questions, right?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Look, this is not a Kosher question, but don't hog it. (Laughter.)

Q I guess my question to you was going to be, why do you believe the Israeli people have not embraced President Obama the same way they embraced our last two U.S. Presidents? Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: So you had to get a polling question in there right at the end? (Laughter.) Chuck, I mean, you're just incorrigible. (Laughter.)

Well, look, the opening premise of your question was that having failed to achieve peace in the Middle East in my first term that I must have screwed up somehow. And I will tell you I hope I'm a better President now than when I first came into office, but my commitment was not to achieve a peace deal in my first year, or in my second year or my third year. That would have been nice. What I said was I was not going to wait to start on the issue until my second term, because I thought it was too important. And that's exactly what I did.

I'm absolutely sure that there are a host of things that I could have done that would have been more deft and would have created better optics. But ultimately, this is a really hard problem. It’s been lingering for over six decades. And the parties involved have some profound interests that you can’t spin, you can’t smooth over. And it is a hard slog to work through all of these issues.

I will add that both parties also have politics, just like we do back home. There are a whole bunch of things that I’d like to do back in the United States that I didn’t get done in my first term. And I’m sure I could have been more deft there as well. But some of it’s just because it’s hard, and people disagree, and it takes I think a confluence of both good diplomatic work, but also timing, serendipity, things falling into place at the right time, the right players feeling that this is the moment to seize it.

And my goal here is just to make sure that the United State is a positive force in trying to create those opportunities as frequently as possible, and to be as clear as possible as to why we think that this is an important priority -- not only because of some Pollyanna-ish views about can’t we all get along and hold hands and sing “Kumbaya,” but because I actually believe that Israel’s security will be enhanced with a resolution to this issue. I believe that Palestinians will prosper and can channel their extraordinary energies and entrepreneurship in more positive ways with a resolution to this issue. The entire region I think will be healthier with a resolution to this issue.

So I’m going to keep on making that argument. And I will admit that, frankly, sometimes it would be easier not to make the argument and to avoid the question, precisely because it’s hard. That’s not the approach that I’ve tried to take.

And there have probably been times where, when I’ve made statements about what I think needs to happen, the way it gets filtered through our press -- it may be interpreted in ways that get Israelis nervous, just like there are folks back home who sometimes get nervous about areas where they aren't sure exactly where I stand on things. That's why I always like the opportunity to talk directly to you guys. Hopefully, you'll show the live film, as opposed to the edited version.

With that, I think you've got four questions to answer, Bibi. (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think that there's a misunderstanding about time. If Iran decides to go for a nuclear weapon -- that is, to actually manufacture the weapon -- then it probably -- then it would take them about a year. I think that's correct. They could defer that a long time but still get through the enrichment process -- that is, to make a weapon you need two things; you need enriched uranium of a critical amount and then you need a weapon. You can't have the weapon without the enriched uranium, but you can have the enriched uranium without the weapon.

Iran right now is enriching uranium. It’s pursuing it. It hasn’t yet reached the red line that I had described in my speech at the U.N. -- they're getting closer, though.

And the question of manufacturing the weapon is a different thing. The President said correctly that we have -- on these issues that are a little arcane, they sound a little detailed to you -- but on these matters we share information and we have a common assessment. We have a common assessment.

In any case, Iran gets to an immunity zone when they get through the enrichment process, in our view -- in our view -- and whatever time is left, there's not a lot of time. And every day that passes diminishes it. But we do have a common assessment. On the schedules, on intelligence, we share that intelligence and we don't have any argument about it. I think it's important to state that clearly.

I think that people should get to know President Obama the way I've gotten to know. And I think you've just heard something that is very meaningful. It may have escaped you, but it hasn't escaped me. And that is the President announced that in addition to all the aid that his administration has provided -- including Iron Dome, including defense funding for Israel during very difficult times -- he has announced that we are going to begin talks on another 10-year process arrangement to ensure American military assistance to Israel. I think this is very significant.

And I want to express my thanks for everything that you have done. And I want to thank you also for that statement you just made. I think it's very, very important.

So I think Israelis will judge this by the unfolding events and by what is happening, what is actually taking place. And for thi -- you know, there's a very simple answer to your question -- the gentleman from NBC, right? Yes. Well, for this, you need, you see, a second term as President and a third term as Prime Minister. That really fixes things. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right, thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)


Barack Obama Administration: Remarks by President Obama and PM Netanyahu After Bilateral Meeting

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me, first of all, welcome again Prime Minister Netanyahu, who I think has now been here seven times during the course of my presidency. And I want to indicate that the frequency of these meetings is an indication of the extraordinary bonds between our two countries, as is the opportunity for the Prime Minister to address Congress during his visit here. I know that&rsquos an honor that&rsquos reserved for those who have always shown themselves to be a great friend of the United States and is indicative of the friendship between our countries.

We just completed a prolonged and extremely useful conversation touching on a wide range of issues. We discussed, first of all, the changes that are sweeping the region and what has been happening in places like Egypt and Syria and how they affect the interests and security of the United States and Israel, as well as the opportunity for prosperity, growth and development in the Arab world.

We agreed that there is a moment of opportunity that can be seized as a consequence of the Arab Spring, but also acknowledge that there&rsquos significant perils as well, and that it&rsquos going to be important for the United States and Israel to consult closely as we see developments unfold.

I outlined for the Prime Minister some of the issues that I discussed in my speech yesterday -- how important it was going to be for the United States to support political reform, support human rights, support freedom of speech, religious tolerance and economic development, particularly in Egypt, as the largest Arab country, as well as Tunisia, the country that first started this revolutionary movement that&rsquos taking place throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

We also discussed the situation in Syria, which is obviously of acute concern to Israel, given its shared border. And I gave more details to the Prime Minister about the significant steps that we are taking to try to pressure Syria and the Assad regime to reform, including the sanctions that we placed directly on President Assad.

We continue to share our deep concerns about Iran, not only the threat that it poses to Israel but also the threat that it poses to the region and the world if it were to develop a nuclear weapon. We updated our strategy to continue to apply pressure, both through sanctions and our other diplomatic work. And I reiterated my belief that it is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon.

We also discussed the hypocrisy of Iran suggesting that it somehow supports democratization in the Middle East when, in fact, they first showed the repressive nature of that regime when they responded to the own peaceful protests that took place inside Iran almost two years ago.

Finally, we discussed the issue of a prospective peace between Israelis and Palestinians. And I reiterated and we discussed in depth the principles that I laid out yesterday -- the belief that our ultimate goal has to be a secure Israeli state, a Jewish state, living side by side in peace and security with a contiguous, functioning and effective Palestinian state.

Obviously there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language, and that&rsquos going to happen between friends. But what we are in complete accord about is that a true peace can only occur if the ultimate resolution allows Israel to defend itself against threats, and that Israel&rsquos security will remain paramount in U.S. evaluations of any prospective peace deal.

I said that yesterday in the speech, and I continue to believe it. And I think that it is possible for us to shape a deal that allows Israel to secure itself, not to be vulnerable, but also allows it to resolve what has obviously been a wrenching issue for both peoples for decades now.

I also pointed out, as I said in the speech yesterday, that it is very difficult for Israel to be expected to negotiate in a serious way with a party that refuses to acknowledge its right to exist. And so for that reason I think the Palestinians are going to have to answer some very difficult questions about this agreement that&rsquos been made between Fatah and Hamas. Hamas has been and is an organization that has resorted to terror that has refused to acknowledge Israel&rsquos rights to exist. It is not a partner for a significant, realistic peace process. And so, as I said yesterday during the speech, the Palestinians are going to have to explain how they can credibly engage in serious peace negotiations in the absence of observing the Quartet principles that have been put forward previously.

So, overall, I thought this was an extremely constructive discussion. And coming out of this discussion, I once again can reaffirm that the extraordinarily close relationship between the United States and Israel is sound and will continue, and that together, hopefully we are going to be able to work to usher in a new period of peace and prosperity in a region that is going to be going through some very profound transformations in the coming weeks, months and years.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Mr. President, first I want to thank you and the First Lady for the gracious hospitality that you&rsquove shown me, my wife, and our entire delegation. We have an enduring bond of friendship between our two countries, and I appreciate the opportunity to have this meeting with you after your important speech yesterday.

We share your hope and your vision for the spread of democracy in the Middle East. I appreciate the fact that you reaffirmed once again now, and in our conversation, and in actual deed the commitment to Israel&rsquos security. We value your efforts to advance the peace process.

This is something that we want to have accomplished. Israel wants peace. I want peace. What we all want is a peace that will be genuine, that will hold, that will endure. And I think that the -- we both agree that a peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality, and that the only peace that will endure is one that is based on reality, on unshakeable facts.

I think for there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities. The first is that while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines -- because these lines are indefensible because they don&rsquot take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.

Remember that, before 1967, Israel was all of nine miles wide. It was half the width of the Washington Beltway. And these were not the boundaries of peace they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive.

So we can't go back to those indefensible lines, and we're going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan. I discussed this with the President and I think that we understand that Israel has certain security requirements that will have to come into place in any deal that we make.

The second is -- echoes something the President just said, and that is that Israel cannot negotiate with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas. Hamas, as the President said, is a terrorist organization committed to Israel&rsquos destruction. It&rsquos fired thousands of rockets on our cities, on our children. It&rsquos recently fired an anti-tank rocket at a yellow school bus, killing a 16-year-old boy. And Hamas has just attacked you, Mr. President, and the United States for ridding the world of bin Laden.

So Israel obviously cannot be asked to negotiate with a government that is backed by the Palestinian version of Al-Qaeda.

I think President Abbas has a simple choice. He has to decide if he negotiates or keeps his pact with Hamas, or makes peace with Israel. And I can only express what I said to you just now, that I hope he makes the choice, the right choice, in choosing peace with Israel.

The third reality is that the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be resolved in the context of a Palestinian state, but certainly not in the borders of Israel.

The Arab attack in 1948 on Israel resulted in two refugee problems -- Palestinian refugee problem and Jewish refugees, roughly the same number, who were expelled from Arab lands. Now, tiny Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees, but the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees. Now, 63 years later, the Palestinians come to us and they say to Israel, accept the grandchildren, really, and the great grandchildren of these refugees, thereby wiping out Israel&rsquos future as a Jewish state.

So it&rsquos not going to happen. Everybody knows it&rsquos not going to happen. And I think it&rsquos time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly it&rsquos not going to happen. The Palestinian refugee problem has to be resolved. It can be resolved, and it will be resolved if the Palestinians choose to do so in a Palestinian state. So that's a real possibility. But it&rsquos not going to be resolved within the Jewish state.

The President and I discussed all these issues and I think we may have differences here and there, but I think there&rsquos an overall direction that we wish to work together to pursue a real, genuine peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors a peace that is defensible.

Mr. President, you're the -- you're the leader of a great people, the American people. And I'm the leader of a much smaller people, the --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: A great people.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: It&rsquos a great people, too. It&rsquos the ancient nation of Israel. And, you know, we've been around for almost 4,000 years. We've experienced struggle and suffering like no other people. We've gone through expulsions and pogroms and massacres and the murder of millions. But I can say that even at the dearth of -- even at the nadir of the valley of death, we never lost hope and we never lost our dream of reestablishing a sovereign state in our ancient homeland, the land of Israel.

And now it falls on my shoulders as the Prime Minister of Israel, at a time of extraordinary instability and uncertainty in the Middle East, to work with you to fashion a peace that will ensure Israel&rsquos security and will not jeopardize its survival. I take this responsibility with pride but with great humility, because, as I told you in our conversation, we don't have a lot of margin for error. And because, Mr. President, history will not give the Jewish people another chance.

So in the coming days and weeks and months, I intend to work with you to seek a peace that will address our security concerns, seek a genuine recognition that we wish from our Palestinian neighbors to give a better future for Israel and for the entire region.

And I thank you for the opportunity to exchange our views and to work together for this common end. Thank you, Mr. President.


Barack Obama Administration: Remarks by President Obama at AIPAC Policy Conference

Rosy, thank you for your kind words. I have never seen Rosy on the basketball court. I'll bet it would be a treat. (Laughter.) Rosy, you've been a dear friend of mine for a long time and a tireless advocate for the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States. And as you complete your term as President, I salute your leadership and your commitment. (Applause.)

I want to thank the board of directors. As always, I&rsquom glad to see my long-time friends in the Chicago delegation. (Applause.) I also want to thank the members of Congress who are with us here today, and who will be speaking to you over the next few days. You've worked hard to maintain the partnership between the United States and Israel. And I especially want to thank my close friend, and leader of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. (Applause.)

I&rsquom glad that my outstanding young Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, is in the house. (Applause.) I understand that Dan is perfecting his Hebrew on his new assignment, and I appreciate his constant outreach to the Israeli people. And I&rsquom also pleased that we&rsquore joined by so many Israeli officials, including Ambassador Michael Oren. (Applause.) And tomorrow, I&rsquom very much looking forward to welcoming Prime Minister Netanyahu and his delegation back to the White House. (Applause.)

Every time I come to AIPAC, I&rsquom especially impressed to see so many young people here. (Applause.) You don't yet get the front seats -- I understand. (Laughter.) You have to earn that. But students from all over the country who are making their voices heard and engaging deeply in our democratic debate. You carry with you an extraordinary legacy of more than six decades of friendship between the United States and Israel. And you have the opportunity -- and the responsibility -- to make your own mark on the world. And for inspiration, you can look to the man who preceded me on this stage, who's being honored at this conference -- my friend, President Shimon Peres. (Applause.)

Shimon was born a world away from here, in a shtetl in what was then Poland, a few years after the end of the first world war. But his heart was always in Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people. (Applause.) And when he was just a boy he made his journey across land and sea -- toward home.

In his life, he has fought for Israel&rsquos independence, and he has fought for peace and security. As a member of the Haganah and a member of the Knesset, as a Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs, as a Prime Minister and as President -- Shimon helped build the nation that thrives today: the Jewish state of Israel. (Applause.) But beyond these extraordinary achievements, he has also been a powerful moral voice that reminds us that right makes might -- not the other way around. (Applause.)

Shimon once described the story of the Jewish people by saying it proved that, &ldquoslings, arrows and gas chambers can annihilate man, but cannot destroy human values, dignity, and freedom.&rdquo And he has lived those values. (Applause.) He has taught us to ask more of ourselves, and to empathize more with our fellow human beings. I am grateful for his life&rsquos work and his moral example. And I'm proud to announce that later this spring, I will invite Shimon Peres to the White House to present him with America&rsquos highest civilian honor -- the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Applause.)

In many ways, this award is a symbol of the broader ties that bind our nations. The United States and Israel share interests, but we also share those human values that Shimon spoke about: A commitment to human dignity. A belief that freedom is a right that is given to all of God&rsquos children. An experience that shows us that democracy is the one and only form of government that can truly respond to the aspirations of citizens.

America&rsquos Founding Fathers understood this truth, just as Israel&rsquos founding generation did. President Truman put it well, describing his decision to formally recognize Israel only minutes after it declared independence. He said, "I had faith in Israel before it was established. I believe it has a glorious future before it -- as not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization."

For over six decades, the American people have kept that faith. Yes, we are bound to Israel because of the interests that we share -- in security for our communities, prosperity for our people, the new frontiers of science that can light the world. But ultimately it is our common ideals that provide the true foundation for our relationship. That is why America&rsquos commitment to Israel has endured under Democratic and Republican Presidents, and congressional leaders of both parties. (Applause.) In the United States, our support for Israel is bipartisan, and that is how it should stay. (Applause.)

AIPAC&rsquos work continually nurtures this bond. And because of AIPAC&rsquos effectiveness in carrying out its mission, you can expect that over the next several days, you will hear many fine words from elected officials describing their commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship. But as you examine my commitment, you don&rsquot just have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds. Because over the last three years, as President of the United States, I have kept my commitments to the state of Israel. At every crucial juncture -- at every fork in the road -- we have been there for Israel. Every single time. (Applause.)

Four years ago, I stood before you and said that, "Israel&rsquos security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable." That belief has guided my actions as President. The fact is, my administration&rsquos commitment to Israel&rsquos security has been unprecedented. Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer. (Applause.) Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust. Despite a tough budget environment, our security assistance has increased every single year. (Applause.) We are investing in new capabilities. We&rsquore providing Israel with more advanced technology -- the types of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies. And make no mistake: We will do what it takes to preserve Israel&rsquos qualitative military edge -- because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat. (Applause.)

This isn&rsquot just about numbers on a balance sheet. As a senator, I spoke to Israeli troops on the Lebanese border. I visited with families who&rsquove known the terror of rocket fire in Sderot. And that&rsquos why, as President, I have provided critical funding to deploy the Iron Dome system that has intercepted rockets that might have hit homes and hospitals and schools in that town and in others. (Applause.) Now our assistance is expanding Israel&rsquos defensive capabilities, so that more Israelis can live free from the fear of rockets and ballistic missiles. Because no family, no citizen, should live in fear.

And just as we&rsquove been there with our security assistance, we've been there through our diplomacy. When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it. (Applause.) When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. (Applause.) When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism. (Applause.)

When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them. When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to save them. (Applause.) When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them. (Applause.) And whenever an effort is made to de-legitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them. (Applause.) So there should not be a shred of doubt by now -- when the chips are down, I have Israel&rsquos back. (Applause.)

Which is why, if during this political season -- (laughter) -- you hear some questions regarding my administration&rsquos support for Israel, remember that it&rsquos not backed up by the facts. And remember that the U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics. America&rsquos national security is too important. Israel&rsquos security is too important. (Applause.)

Of course, there are those who question not my security and diplomatic commitments, but rather my administration&rsquos ongoing pursuit of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. So let me say this: I make no apologies for pursuing peace. Israel&rsquos own leaders understand the necessity of peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, President Peres -- each of them have called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state. I believe that peace is profoundly in Israel&rsquos security interest. (Applause.)

The reality that Israel faces -- from shifting demographics, to emerging technologies, to an extremely difficult international environment -- demands a resolution of this issue. And I believe that peace with the Palestinians is consistent with Israel&rsquos founding values -- because of our shared belief in self-determination, and because Israel&rsquos place as a Jewish and democratic state must be protected. (Applause.)

Of course, peace is hard to achieve. There&rsquos a reason why it's remained elusive for six decades. The upheaval and uncertainty in Israel&rsquos neighborhood makes it that much harder -- from the horrific violence raging in Syria, to the transition in Egypt. And the division within the Palestinian leadership makes it harder still -- most notably, with Hamas&rsquos continued rejection of Israel&rsquos very right to exist.

But as hard as it may be, we should not, and cannot, give in to cynicism or despair. The changes taking place in the region make peace more important, not less. And I've made it clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel&rsquos security concerns are met. (Applause.) That's why we continue to press Arab leaders to reach out to Israel, and will continue to support the peace treaty with Egypt. That&rsquos why -- just as we encourage Israel to be resolute in the pursuit of peace -- we have continued to insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel&rsquos right to exist, and reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements. (Applause.) And that is why my administration has consistently rejected any efforts to short-cut negotiations or impose an agreement on the parties. (Applause.)

As Rosy noted, last year, I stood before you and pledged that, "the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations." As you know, that pledge has been kept. (Applause.) Last September, I stood before the United Nations General Assembly and reaffirmed that any lasting peace must acknowledge the fundamental legitimacy of Israel and its security concerns. I said that America&rsquos commitment to Israel&rsquos security is unshakeable, our friendship with Israel is enduring, and that Israel must be recognized. No American President has made such a clear statement about our support for Israel at the United Nations at such a difficult time. People usually give those speeches before audiences like this one -- not before the General Assembly. (Applause.)

And I must say, there was not a lot of applause. (Laughter.) But it was the right thing to do. (Applause.) And as a result, today there is no doubt -- anywhere in the world -- that the United States will insist upon Israel&rsquos security and legitimacy. (Applause.) That will be true as we continue our efforts to pursue -- in the pursuit of peace. And that will be true when it comes to the issue that is such a focus for all of us today: Iran&rsquos nuclear program -- a threat that has the potential to bring together the worst rhetoric about Israel&rsquos destruction with the world&rsquos most dangerous weapons.

Let&rsquos begin with a basic truth that you all understand: No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel&rsquos destruction. (Applause.) And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, and all of Israel&rsquos leaders.

A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel&rsquos security interests. But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States. (Applause.)

Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferation regime that we've done so much to build. There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization. It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the world's most volatile regions. It would embolden a regime that has brutalized its own people, and it would embolden Iran&rsquos proxies, who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to southwest Asia.

And that is why, four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people, and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And that is what we have done. (Applause.)

When I took office, the efforts to apply pressure on Iran were in tatters. Iran had gone from zero centrifuges spinning to thousands, without facing broad pushback from the world. In the region, Iran was ascendant -- increasingly popular, and extending its reach. In other words, the Iranian leadership was united and on the move, and the international community was divided about how to go forward.

And so from my very first months in office, we put forward a very clear choice to the Iranian regime: a path that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their international obligations, or a path that leads to an escalating series of consequences if they don't. In fact, our policy of engagement -- quickly rebuffed by the Iranian regime -- allowed us to rally the international community as never before, to expose Iran&rsquos intransigence, and to apply pressure that goes far beyond anything that the United States could do on our own.

Because of our efforts, Iran is under greater pressure than ever before. Some of you will recall, people predicted that Russia and China wouldn&rsquot join us to move toward pressure. They did. And in 2010 the U.N. Security Council overwhelmingly supported a comprehensive sanctions effort. Few thought that sanctions could have an immediate bite on the Iranian regime. They have, slowing the Iranian nuclear program and virtually grinding the Iranian economy to a halt in 2011. Many questioned whether we could hold our coalition together as we moved against Iran&rsquos Central Bank and oil exports. But our friends in Europe and Asia and elsewhere are joining us. And in 2012, the Iranian government faces the prospect of even more crippling sanctions.

That is where we are today -- because of our work. Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure. And by the way, the Arab Spring has only increased these trends, as the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime is exposed, and its ally -- the Assad regime -- is crumbling.

Of course, so long as Iran fails to meet its obligations, this problem remains unresolved. The effective implementation of our policy is not enough -- we must accomplish our objective. (Applause.) And in that effort, I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy -- backed by pressure -- to succeed.

The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program. Now, the international community has a responsibility to use the time and space that exists. Sanctions are continuing to increase, and this July -- thanks to our diplomatic coordination -- a European ban on Iranian oil imports will take hold. (Applause.) Faced with these increasingly dire consequences, Iran&rsquos leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision. They can choose a path that brings them back into the community of nations, or they can continue down a dead end.

And given their history, there are, of course, no guarantees that the Iranian regime will make the right choice. But both Israel and the United States have an interest in seeing this challenge resolved diplomatically. After all, the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons. That&rsquos what history tells us.

Moreover, as President and Commander-in-Chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war. (Applause.) I have sent men and women into harm&rsquos way. I've seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of those I meet who've come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who don&rsquot make it home. Long after I leave this office, I will remember those moments as the most searing of my presidency. And for this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it. And I know that Israeli leaders also know all too well the costs and consequences of war, even as they recognize their obligation to defend their country.

We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically. Having said that, Iran&rsquos leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States -- (applause) -- just as they should not doubt Israel&rsquos sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs. (Applause.)

I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. (Applause.) That includes all elements of American power: A political effort aimed at isolating Iran a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency. (Applause.)

Iran&rsquos leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. (Applause.) And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests. (Applause.)

Moving forward, I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world. Already, there is too much loose talk of war. Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program. For the sake of Israel&rsquos security, America&rsquos security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster. Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built. Now is the time to heed the timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: Speak softly carry a big stick. (Applause.) And as we do, rest assured that the Iranian government will know our resolve, and that our coordination with Israel will continue.

These are challenging times. But we've been through challenging times before, and the United States and Israel have come through them together. Because of our cooperation, citizens in both our countries have benefited from the bonds that bring us together. I'm proud to be one of those people. In the past, I've shared in this forum just why those bonds are so personal for me: the stories of a great uncle who helped liberate Buchenwald, to my memories of returning there with Elie Wiesel from sharing books with President Peres to sharing seders with my young staff in a tradition that started on the campaign trail and continues in the White House from the countless friends I know in this room to the concept of tikkun olam that has enriched and guided my life. (Applause.)

As Harry Truman understood, Israel&rsquos story is one of hope. We may not agree on every single issue -- no two nations do, and our democracies contain a vibrant diversity of views. But we agree on the big things -- the things that matter. And together, we are working to build a better world -- one where our people can live free from fear one where peace is founded upon justice one where our children can know a future that is more hopeful than the present.

There is no shortage of speeches on the friendship between the United States and Israel. But I'm also mindful of the proverb, "A man is judged by his deeds, not his words." So if you want to know where my heart lies, look no further than what I have done -- to stand up for Israel to secure both of our countries and to see that the rough waters of our time lead to a peaceful and prosperous shore. (Applause.)

Thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. God bless the people of Israel. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)


Barack Obama Administration: Remarks by President Obama and PM Netanyahu After Meeting

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I just completed an excellent one-on-one discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I want to welcome him back to the White House.

I want to, first of all, thank him for the wonderful statement that he made in honor of the Fourth of July, our Independence Day, when he was still in Israel. And it marked just one more chapter in the extraordinary friendship between our two countries.

As Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated in his speech, the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable. It encompasses our national security interests, our strategic interests, but most importantly, the bond of two democracies who share a common set of values and whose people have grown closer and closer as time goes on.

During our discussions in our private meeting we covered a wide range of issues. We discussed the issue of Gaza, and I commended Prime Minister Netanyahu on the progress that's been made in allowing more goods into Gaza. We've seen real progress on the ground. I think it&rsquos been acknowledged that it has moved more quickly and more effectively than many people anticipated.

Obviously there&rsquos still tensions and issues there that have to be resolved, but our two countries are working cooperatively together to deal with these issues. The Quartet has been, I think, very helpful as well. And we believe that there is a way to make sure that the people of Gaza are able to prosper economically, while Israel is able to maintain its legitimate security needs in not allowing missiles and weapons to get to Hamas.

We discussed the issue of Iran, and we pointed out that as a consequence of some hard work internationally, we have instituted through the U.N. Security Council the toughest sanctions ever directed at an Iranian government. In addition, last week I signed our own set of sanctions, coming out of the United States Congress, as robust as any that we've ever seen. Other countries are following suit. And so we intend to continue to put pressure on Iran to meet its international obligations and to cease the kinds of provocative behavior that has made it a threat to its neighbors and the international community.

We had a extensive discussion about the prospects for Middle East peace. I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he&rsquos willing to take risks for peace. And during our conversation, he once again reaffirmed his willingness to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians around what I think should be the goal not just of the two principals involved, but the entire world, and that is two states living side by side in peace and security.

Israel&rsquos security needs met, the Palestinians having a sovereign state that they call their own -- those are goals that have obviously escaped our grasp for decades now. But now more than ever I think is the time for us to seize on that vision. And I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so. It&rsquos going to be difficult it&rsquos going to be hard work. But we've seen already proximity talks taking place. My envoy, George Mitchell, has helped to organize five of them so far. We expect those proximity talks to lead to direct talks, and I believe that the government of Israel is prepared to engage in such direct talks, and I commend the Prime Minister for that.

There are going to need to be a whole set of confidence-building measures to make sure that people are serious and that we're sending a signal to the region that this isn&rsquot just more talk and more process without action. I think it is also important to recognize that the Arab states have to be supportive of peace, because, although ultimately this is going to be determined by the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, they can't succeed unless you have the surrounding states having as -- a greater investment in the process than we've seen so far.

Finally, we discussed issues that arose out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference. And I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues. We strongly believe that, given its size, its history, the region that it&rsquos in, and the threats that are leveled against us -- against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It&rsquos got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region. And that's why we remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel&rsquos security. And the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.

So I just want to say once again that I thought the discussion that we had was excellent. We&rsquove seen over the last year how our relationship has broadened. Sometimes it doesn&rsquot get publicized, but on a whole range of issues -- economic, military-to-military, issues related to Israel maintaining its qualitative military edge, intelligence-sharing, how we are able to work together effectively on the international front -- that in fact our relationship is continuing to improve. And I think a lot of that has to do with the excellent work that the Prime Minister has done. So I&rsquom grateful.

And welcome, once again, to the White House.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you, Mr. President.

The President and I had an extensive, excellent discussion in which we discussed a broad range of issues. These include of course our own cooperation in the fields of intelligence and security. And exactly as the President said, it is extensive. Not everything is seen by the public, but it is seen and appreciated by us.

We understand fully that we will work together in the coming months and years to protect our common interests, our countries, our peoples, against new threats. And at the same time, we want to explore the possibility of peace.

The greatest new threat on the horizon, the single most dominant issue for many of us, is the prospect that Iran would acquire nuclear weapons. Iran is brutally terrorizing its people, spreading terrorism far and wide. And I very much appreciate the President&rsquos statement that he is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

That has been translated by the President through his leadership at the Security Council, which passed sanctions against Iran by the U.S. bill that the President signed just a few days ago. And I urge other leaders to follow the President&rsquos lead, and other countries to follow the U.S. lead, to adopt much tougher sanctions against Iran, primarily those directed against its energy sector.

As the President said, we discussed a great deal about activating, moving forward the quest for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We&rsquore committed to that peace. I&rsquom committed to that peace. And this peace I think will better the lives of Israelis, of Palestinians, and it certainly would change our region.

Israelis are prepared to do a lot to get that peace in place, but they want to make sure that after all the steps they take, that what we get is a secure peace. We don&rsquot want a repeat of the situation where we vacate territories and those are overtaken by Iran&rsquos proxies and used as a launching ground for terrorist attacks or rocket attacks.

I think there are solutions that we can adopt. But in order to proceed to the solutions, we need to begin negotiations in order to end them. We&rsquove begun proximity talks. I think it&rsquos high time to begin direct talks. I think with the help of President Obama, President Abbas and myself should engage in direct talks to reach a political settlement of peace, coupled with security and prosperity.

This requires that the Palestinian Authority prepare its people for peace -- schools, textbooks, and so on. But I think at the end of the day, peace is the best option for all of us, and I think we have a unique opportunity and a unique time to do it.

The President says that he has a habit of confounding all the cynics and all the naysayers and all those who preclude possibility, and he&rsquos shown it time and time again. I think I've had my opportunity to confound some cynics myself, and I think if we work together, with President Abbas, then we can bring a great message of hope to our peoples, to the region, and to the world.

One final point, Mr. President -- I want to thank you for reaffirming to me in private and now in public as you did the longstanding U.S. commitments to Israel on matters of vital strategic importance. I want to thank you, too, for the great hospitality you and the First Lady have shown Sara and me and our entire delegation. And I think we have to redress the balance -- you know, I&rsquove been coming here a lot. It&rsquos about time --

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: -- you and the First Lady came to Israel, sir.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We look forward to it. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Any time.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much. Thank you.

All right, we&rsquove got time for one question each. I&rsquom going to call on Stephen Collinson, AFP.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. As part of the steps which need to be taken to move proximity talks on to direct talks, do you think it would be helpful for Israel to extend the partial settlement moratorium, which is set to expire in September?

And if I could just briefly ask the Prime Minister, with regards to the sanctions you mentioned, do you think that these measures will contain or halt Iran&rsquos nuclear program where others have failed?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let me -- let me, first of all, say that I think the Israeli government, working through layers of various governmental entities and jurisdictions, has shown restraint over the last several months that I think has been conducive to the prospects of us getting into direct talks.

And my hope is, is that once direct talks have begun, well before the moratorium has expired, that that will create a climate in which everybody feels a greater investment in success. Not every action by one party or the other is taken as a reason for not engaging in talks. So there ends up being more room created by more trust. And so I want to just make sure that we sustain that over the next -- over the next several weeks.

I do think that there are a range of confidence-building measures that can be taken by all sides that improve the prospects of a successful negotiation. And I&rsquove discussed some of those privately with the Prime Minister. When President Abbas was here, I discussed some of those same issues with him.

I think it&rsquos very important that the Palestinians not look for excuses for incitement, that they are not engaging in provocative language that at the international level, they are maintaining a constructive tone, as opposed to looking for opportunities to embarrass Israel.

At the same time, I&rsquove said to Prime Minister Netanyahu -- I don't think he minds me sharing it publicly -- that Abu Mazen working with Fayyad have done some very significant things when it comes to the security front. And so us being able to widen the scope of their responsibilities in the West Bank is something that I think would be very meaningful to the Palestinian people. I think that some of the steps that have already been taken in Gaza help to build confidence. And if we continue to make progress on that front, then Palestinians can see in very concrete terms what peace can bring that rhetoric and violence cannot bring -- and that is people actually having an opportunity to raise their children, and make a living, and buy and sell goods, and build a life for themselves, which is ultimately what people in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories want.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think the latest sanctions adopted by the U.N. create illegitimacy or create de-legitimization for Iran&rsquos nuclear program, and that is important. I think the sanctions the President signed the other day actually have teeth. They bite.

The question is -- how much do you need to bite is something I cannot answer now. But if other nations adopted similar sanctions, that would increase the effect. The more like-minded countries join in the American-led effort that President Obama has signed into act, into law, I think the better we&rsquoll be able to give you an answer to your question.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Is there somebody you want to ask here?

Q Mr. President, in the past year, you distanced yourself from Israel and gave a cold shoulder to the Prime Minister. Do you think this policy was a mistake? Do you think it contributes to the bashing of Israel by others? And is that -- you change it now, and do you trust now Prime Minister Netanyahu?

And if I may, Mr. Prime Minister, specifically, did you discuss with the President the continuing of the freezing of settlements after September? And did you tell him that you&rsquore going to keep on building after this period is over?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me, first of all, say that the premise of your question was wrong and I entirely disagree with it. If you look at every public statement that I&rsquove made over the last year and a half, it has been a constant reaffirmation of the special relationship between the United States and Israel, that our commitment to Israel&rsquos security has been unwavering. And, in fact, there aren&rsquot any concrete policies that you could point to that would contradict that.

And in terms of my relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I know the press, both in Israel and stateside, enjoys seeing if there&rsquos news there. But the fact of the matter is that I&rsquove trusted Prime Minister Netanyahu since I met him before I was elected President, and have said so both publicly and privately.

I think that he is dealing with a very complex situation in a very tough neighborhood. And what I have consistently shared with him is my interest in working with him -- not at cross-purposes -- so that we can achieve the kind of peace that will ensure Israel&rsquos security for decades to come.

And that's going to mean some tough choices. And there are going to be times where he and I are having robust discussions about what kind of choices need to be made. But the underlying approach never changes, and that is the United States is committed to Israel&rsquos security we are committed to that special bond and we are going to do what&rsquos required to back that up, not just with words but with actions.

We are going to continually work with the Prime Minister and the entire Israeli government, as well as the Israeli people, so that we can achieve what I think has to be everybody&rsquos goal, which is that people feel secure. They don't feel like a rocket is going to be landing on their head sometime. They don't feel as if there&rsquos a growing population that wants to direct violence against Israel.

That requires work and that requires some difficult choices -- both at the strategic level and the tactical level. And this is something that the Prime Minister understands, and why I think that we&rsquore going to be able to work together not just over the next few months but hopefully over the next several years.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: The President and I discussed concrete steps that could be done now, in the coming days and the coming weeks, to move the peace process further along in a very robust way. This is what we focused our conversation on. And when I say the next few weeks, that's what I mean. The President means that, too.

Let me make a general observation about the question you posed to the President. And here I&rsquoll have to paraphrase Mark Twain, that the reports about the demise of the special U.S.-Israel relations -- relationship aren&rsquot just premature, they're just flat wrong. There&rsquos a depth and richness of this relationship that is expressed every day. Our teams talk. We don't make it public. The only thing that's public is that you can have differences on occasion in the best of families and the closest of families that comes out public -- and sometimes in a twisted way, too.

What is not told is the fact that we have an enduring bond of values, interests, beginning with security and the way that we share both information and other things to help the common defense of our common interests -- and many others in the region who don't often admit to the beneficial effect of this cooperation.

So I think there&rsquos -- the President said it best in his speech in Cairo. He said in front of the entire Islamic world, he said, the bond between Israel and the United States is unbreakable. And I can affirm that to you today.


Barack Obama Administration: Remarks by President Obama & Middle East Leaders on the Resumption of Direct Negotiations

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good evening, everyone. Tomorrow, after nearly two years, Israelis and Palestinians will resume direct talks in pursuit of a goal that we all share &mdash two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Tonight, I&rsquom pleased to welcome to the White House key partners in this effort, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the representative of our Quartet partners, former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Your Majesty King Abdullah, and President Mubarak &mdash we are but five men. Our dinner this evening will be a small gathering around a single table. Yet when we come together, we will not be alone. We&rsquoll be joined by the generations &mdash those who have gone before and those who will follow.

Each of you are the heirs of peacemakers who dared greatly &mdash Begin and Sadat, Rabin and King Hussein&mdash statesmen who saw the world as it was but also imagined the world as it should be. It is the shoulders of our predecessors upon which we stand. It is their work that we carry on. Now, like each of them, we must ask, do we have the wisdom and the courage to walk the path of peace? All of us are leaders of our people, who, no matter the language they speak or the faith they practice, all basically seek the same things: to live in security, free from fear to live in dignity, free from want to provide for their families and to realize a better tomorrow. Tonight, they look to us, and each of us must decide, will we work diligently to fulfill their aspirations?

And though each of us holds a title of honor &mdash President, Prime Minister, King &mdash we are bound by the one title we share. We are fathers, blessed with sons and daughters. So we must ask ourselves what kind of world do we want to bequeath to our children and our grandchildren.

Tonight, and in the days and months ahead, these are the questions that we must answer. And this is a fitting moment to do so. For Muslims, this is Ramadan. For Jews, this is Elul. It is rare for those two months to coincide. But this year, tonight, they do. Different faiths, different rituals, but a shared period of devotion &mdash and contemplation. A time to reflect on right and wrong a time to ponder one&rsquos place in the world a time when the people of two great religions remind the world of a truth that is both simple and profound, that each of us, all of us, in our hearts and in our lives, are capable of great and lasting change.

In this spirit, I welcome my partners. And I invite each to say a few words before we begin our meal, beginning with President Mubarak, on to His Majesty King Abdullah, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.

PRESIDENT MUBARAK: (As prepared for delivery.) I am pleased to participate with you today in relaunching direct peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. Like you, and the millions of Palestinians, Israelis, Arabs and the rest of the world, I look forward that these negotiations be final and decisive, and that they lead to a peace agreement within one year.

Our meet today would not have taken place without the considerable effort exerted by the American administration under the leadership of President Obama. I pay tribute to you, Mr. President, for your personal, serious commit and for your determination to work for a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine since the early days of your presidency. I appreciate your perseverance throughout the past period to overcome the difficulties facing the relaunching of the negotiations.

(Continued as translated.) I consider this invitation a manifestation of your commitment and a significant message that the United States will shepherd these negotiations seriously and at the highest level.

No one realizes the value of peace more than those who have known wars and their havoc. It was my destiny to witness over many events in our region during the years of war and peace. I have gone through wars and hostilities, and have participated in the quest for peace since the first day of my administration. I have never spared an effort to push it forward, and I still look forward to its success and completion.

The efforts to achieve peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis encountered many difficulties since the Madrid Conference in October 1999, and progress and regression, breakthroughs and setbacks, but the occupation of the Palestinian Territory remains an independent -- an independent Palestinian state is yet -- remains a dream in the conscious of the Palestinian people.There is no doubt that this situation should raise great frustration and anger among our people, for it is no longer acceptable or conceivable on the verge of the second decade of the third millennium that we fail to achieve just and true peace -- peace that would put an end to the century of conflict, fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, lift the occupation, allow for the establishment of normal relations between the Palestinians and Israelis.

It is true that reaching a just and comprehensive peace treaty between both sides has been an elusive hope for almost two decades. Yet the accumulated experience of both parties, the extended rounds of negotiations, and the previous understandings, particularly during the Clinton parameters of 2000, and subsequent understandings of Taba and with the previous Israeli government, all contributed in setting the outline of the final settlement.

This outline has become well known to the international community and to both peoples -- the Palestinian and Israeli people. Hence, it is expected that the current negotiations will not start from scratch or in void. No doubt, the position of the international community, as is stated in the consecutive statements of the Quartet, in particular, in its latest August 20th statement, paid due respect to relevant international resolutions and supported the outline of final settlements using different formulation without prejudice to the outcome of negotiations.

It has stressed that the aim of the soon-to-start direct negotiation is to reach a peaceful settlement that would end the Israeli occupation which began in 1967, allowing for the independent and sovereign state of Palestine to emerge and live side by side in peace and security with the state of Israel.

I met with Prime Minister Netanyahu many times since he took office last year. In our meetings, I listened to assertions on his willingness to achieve peace with the Palestinians, and for history to record his name for such an achievement. I say to him today that I look forward to achieving those assertions in reality, and his success in achieving the long-awaited peace, which I know the people of Israel yearn for, just like all other people in the region. Reaching just peace with the Palestinians will require from Israel taking important and decisive decisions -- decisions that are undoubtedly difficult yet they will be necessary to achieve peace and stability, and in a different context than the one that prevailed before. Settlement activities on the Palestinian Territory are contrary to international law. They will not create rights for Israel, nor are they going to achieve peace or security for Israel. It is, therefore, a priority to completely freeze all these activities until the entire negotiation process comes to a successful end.

I say to the Israelis, seize the current opportunity. Do not let it slip through your fingers. Make comprehensive peace your goal. Extend your hand to meet the hand already extended in the Arab Peace Initiative. I say to President Mahmoud Abbas, Egypt will continue its faithful support to the patient Palestinian people and their just cause. We will continue our concerted efforts to help fulfill the aspirations of your people and retrieve their legitimate rights. We will stand by you until the independent state of Palestine on the land occupied since 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital. We will also continue our efforts to achieve Palestinian reconciliation for the sake of the Palestinian national interest.

Once again, I&rsquod like to express my thanks to President Obama, and I renew Egypt&rsquos commitment to continue exerting all efforts, sharing honest advice and a commitment to the principles on which Arab and regional policy rests upon.

Please accept my appreciation, and peace be upon you. (Applause.)

HIS MAJESTY KING ABDULLAH: (As translated.) In the name of God most merciful, most compassionate, President Obama, peace be upon you. (In English.) For decades, a Palestinian-Israeli settlement has eluded us. Millions of men, women and children have suffered. Too many people have lost faith in our ability to bring them the peace they want. Radicals and terrorists have exploited frustrations to feed hatred and ignite wars. The whole world has been dragged into regional conflicts that cannot be addressed effectively until Arabs and Israelis find peace.

This past record drives the importance of our efforts today. There are those on both sides who want us to fail, who will do everything in their power to disrupt our efforts today -- because when the Palestinians and Israelis find peace, when young men and women can look to a future of promise and opportunity, radicals and extremists lose their most potent appeal. This is why we must prevail. For our failure would be their success in sinking the region into more instability and wars that will cause further suffering in our region and beyond.

President Obama, we value your commitment to the cause of peace in our region. We count on your continued engagement to help the parties move forward. You have said that Middle East peace is in the national security interest of your country. And we believe it is. And it is also a strategic European interest, and it is a necessary requirement for global security and stability. Peace is also a right for every citizen in our region. A Palestinian-Israeli settlement on the basis of two states living side by side is a precondition for security and stability of all countries of the Middle East, with a regional peace that will lead to normal relations between Israel and 57 Arab and Muslim states that have endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative. That would be -- well, that would also be an essential step towards neutralizing forces of evil and war that threaten all peoples.

Mr. President, we need your support as a mediator, honest broker, and a partner, as the parties move along the hard but inevitable path of settlements.

Your Excellencies, all eyes are upon us. The direct negotiations that will start tomorrow must show results -- and sooner rather than later. Time is not on our side. That is why we must spare no effort in addressing all final status issues with a view to reaching the two-state solution, the only solution that can create a future worthy of our great region -- a future of peace in which fathers and mothers can raise their children without fear, young people can look forward to lives of achievement and hope, and 300 million people can cooperate for mutual benefit.

For too long, too many people of the region have been denied their most basic of human rights: the right to live in peace and security respected in their human dignity enjoying freedom and opportunity. If hopes are disappointed again, the price of failure will be too high for all.

Our peoples want us to rise to their expectations. And we can do so if we approach these negotiations with goodwill, sincerity and courage. (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Mr. President, Excellencies, Shalom Aleichem. Shalom Alkulanu. Peace unto us all.

I&rsquom very pleased to be here today to begin our common effort to achieve a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

I want to thank you, President Obama, for your tireless efforts to renew this quest for peace. I want to thank Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Mitchell, the many members of the Obama administration, and Tony Blair, who&rsquove all worked so hard to bring Israelis and Palestinians together here today.

I also want to thank President Mubarak and King Abdullah for their dedicated and meaningful support to promote peace, security, and stability throughout our region. I deeply appreciate your presence here today.

I began with a Hebrew word for peace, &ldquoshalom.&rdquo Our goal is shalom. Our goal is to forge a secure and durable peace between Israelis and Palestinians. We don&rsquot seek a brief interlude between two wars. We don&rsquot seek a temporary respite between outbursts of terror. We seek a peace that will end the conflict between us once and for all. We seek a peace that will last for generations -- our generation, our children&rsquos generation, and the next.

This is the peace my people fervently want. This is the peace all our peoples fervently aspire to. This is the peace they deserve.

Now, a lasting peace is a peace between peoples -- between Israelis and Palestinians. We must learn to live together, to live next to one another and with one another. But every peace begins with leaders.

President Abbas, you are my partner in peace. And it is up to us, with the help of our friends, to conclude the agonizing conflict between our peoples and to afford them a new beginning. The Jewish people are not strangers in our ancestral homeland, the land of our forefathers. But we recognize that another people shares this land with us.I came here today to find an historic compromise that will enable both our peoples to live in peace and security and in dignity. I&rsquove been making the case for Israel all of my life. But I didn&rsquot come here today to make an argument. I came here today to make peace. I didn&rsquot come here today to play a blame game where even the winners lose. Everybody loses if there&rsquos no peace. I came here to achieve a peace that will bring a lasting benefit to us all.I didn&rsquot come here to find excuses or to make them. I came here to find solutions. I know the history of our conflict and the sacrifices that have been made. I know the grief that has afflicted so many families who have lost their dearest loved ones. Only yesterday four Israelis, including a pregnant women -- a pregnant woman -- and another woman, a mother of six children, were brutally murdered by savage terrorists. And two hours ago, there was another terror attack. And thank God no one died. I will not let the terrorists block our path to peace, but as these events underscore once again, that peace must be anchored in security. I&rsquom prepared to walk down the path of peace, because I know what peace would mean for our children and for our grandchildren. I know it would herald a new beginning that could unleash unprecedented opportunities for Israelis, for Palestinians, and for the peoples -- all the peoples -- of our region, and well beyond our region. I think it would affect the world.

I see what a period of calm has created in the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, of Janin, throughout the West Bank, a great economic boom. And real peace can turn this boom into a permanent era of progress and hope.

If we work together, we can take advantage of the great benefits afforded by our unique place under the sun. We&rsquore the crossroads of three continents, at the crossroads of history, and the crossroads of the future. Our geography, our history, our culture, our climate, the talents of our people can be unleashed to create extraordinary opportunities in tourism, in trade, in industry, in energy, in water, in so many areas. But peace must also be defended against its enemies. We want the skyline of the West Bank to be dominated by apartment towers -- not missiles. We want the roads of the West Bank to flow with commerce -- not terrorists.

And this is not a theoretic request for our people. We left Lebanon, and we got terror. We left Gaza, and we got terror once again. We want to ensure that territory we&rsquoll concede will not be turned into a third Iranian-sponsored terror enclave armed at the heart of Israel -- and may I add, also aimed at every one of us sitting on this stage.

This is why a defensible peace requires security arrangements that can withstand the test of time and the many challenges that are sure to confront us. And there will be many challenges, both great and small. Let us not get bogged down by every difference between us. Let us direct our courage, our thinking, and our decisions at those historic decisions that lie ahead.

Now, there are many skeptics. One thing there&rsquos no shortage of, Mr. President, are skeptics. This is something that you&rsquore so familiar with, that all of us in a position of leadership are familiar with. There are many skeptics. I suppose there are many reasons for skepticism. But I have no doubt that peace is possible.

President Abbas, we cannot erase the past, but it is within our power to change the future. Thousands of years ago, on these very hills where Israelis and Palestinians live today, the Jewish prophet Isaiah and the other prophets of my people envisaged a future of lasting peace for all mankind. Let today be an auspicious step in our joint effort to realize that ancient vision for a better future. (Applause.)

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (As translated.) His Excellency President Barack Obama, His Excellency President Hosni Mubarak, His Majesty King Abdullah II, His Excellency Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, Mr. Tony Blair, ladies and gentlemen.I would like to start by thanking President Obama for his invitation to host us here today to relaunch the permanent status negotiations to reach a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement covering all the permanent status issues within a year in accordance with international law and relevant resolutions. As we move towards the relaunch of these negotiations tomorrow, we recognize the difficulties, challenges and obstacles that lie ahead. Yet we assure you, in the name of the PLO, that we will draw on years of experience in negotiations and benefit from the lessons learned to make these negotiations successful.

We also reiterate our commitment to carry out all our obligations, and we call on the Israelis to carry out their obligations, including a freeze on settlements activities, which is not setting a precondition but a call to implement an agreed obligation and to end all the closure and blockade, preventing freedom of movement, including the (inaudible) siege.

We will spare no effort and will work diligently and tirelessly to ensure that these new negotiations achieve their goals and objectives in dealing with all of the issues: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, border security, water, as well as the release of all our prisoners -- in order to achieve peace. The people of our area are looking for peace that achieves freedom, independence, and justice to the Palestinian people in their country and in their homeland and in the diaspora -- our people who have endured decades of longstanding suffering.

We want a peace that will correct the historical injustice caused by the (inaudible) of 1948, and one that brings security to our people and the Israeli people. And we want peace that will give us both and the people of the region a new era where we enjoy just peace, stability, and prosperity. Our determination stems to a great extent from your willpower, Mr. President, and your firm and sweeping drive with which you engulfed the entire world from the day you took office to set the parties on the path for peace -- and also this same spirit, exhibited by Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator George Mitchell and his team. The presence of His Excellency President Mubarak and His Majesty King Abdullah is another telling indication of their substantial and effective commitment overall, where Egypt and Jordan have been playing a supportive role for advancing the peace process. Their effective role is further demonstrated by the Arab Peace Initiative, which was fully endorsed by all of the Arab states, and the Islamic countries as well.

This initiative served a genuine and sincere opportunity to achieve a just and comprehensive peace on all tracks in our region, including the Syrian-Israeli track and the Lebanese-Israeli track, and provided a sincere opportunity to make peace.

The presence here today of the envoy of the Quartet, Mr. Tony Blair, is a most telling signal, especially since he has been personally involved in the Palestinian Authority for many years and in the efforts for state building in Palestine.

Excellencies, the time has come for us to make peace and it is time to end the occupation that started in 1967, and for the Palestinian people to get freedom, justice, and independence. It is time that a independent Palestinian state be established with sovereignty side by side with the state of Israel. It is time to put an end to the struggle in the Middle East. The Palestinian people who insist on the rights and freedom and independence are in most need for justice, security, and peace, because they are the victim, the ones that were harmed the most from this violence. And it is sending message to our neighbors, the Israelis, and to the world that they are also careful about supporting the opportunities for the success of these negotiations and the just and lasting peace as soon as possible.

With this spirit, we will work to make these negotiations succeed. And with this spirit, we are -- trust that we are capable to achieve our historical, difficult mission -- making peace in the land of peace.


Barack Obama Administration: Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, listen, I first of all want to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for making this visit. I think we had a extraordinarily productive series of conversations, not only between the two of us but also at the staff and agency levels.

Obviously this reflects the extraordinary relationship, the special relationship between the United States and Israel. It is a stalwart ally of the United States. We have historical ties, emotional ties. As the only true democracy of the Middle East it is a source of admiration and inspiration for the American people.

I have said from the outset that when it comes to my policies towards Israel and the Middle East that Israel&rsquos security is paramount, and I repeated that to Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is in U.S. national security interests to assure that Israel&rsquos security as an independent Jewish state is maintained.

One of the areas that we discussed is the deepening concern around the potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon by Iran. It&rsquos something the Prime Minister has been very vocal in his concerns about, but is a concern that is shared by his countrymen and women across the political spectrum.

I indicated to him the view of our administration, that Iran is a country of extraordinary history and extraordinary potential, that we want them to be a full-fledged member of the international community and be in a position to provide opportunities and prosperity for their people, but that the way to achieve those goals is not through the pursuit of a nuclear weapon. And I indicated to Prime Minister Netanyahu in private what I have said publicly, which is that Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would not only be a threat to Israel and a threat to the United States, but would be profoundly destabilizing in the international community as a whole and could set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that would be extraordinarily dangerous for all concerned, including for Iran.

We are engaged in a process to reach out to Iran and persuade them that it is not in their interest to pursue a nuclear weapon and that they should change course. But I assured the Prime Minister that we are not foreclosing a range of steps, including much stronger international sanctions, in assuring that Iran understands that we are serious. And obviously the Prime Minister emphasized his seriousness around this issue as well -- I&rsquoll allow him to speak for himself on that subject.

We also had an extensive discussion about the possibilities of restarting serious negotiations on the issue of Israel and the Palestinians. I have said before and I will repeat again that it is I believe in the interest not only of the Palestinians, but also the Israelis and the United States and the international community to achieve a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians are living side by side in peace and security.

We have seen progress stalled on this front, and I suggested to the Prime Minister that he has an historic opportunity to get a serious movement on this issue during his tenure. That means that all the parties involved have to take seriously obligations that they&rsquove previously agreed to. Those obligations were outlined in the road map they were discussed extensively in Annapolis. And I think that we can -- there is no reason why we should not seize this opportunity and this moment for all the parties concerned to take seriously those obligations and to move forward in a way that assures Israel&rsquos security, that stops the terrorist attacks that have been such a source of pain and hardship, that we can stop rocket attacks on Israel but that also allow Palestinians to govern themselves as an independent state, that allows economic development to take place, that allows them to make serious progress in meeting the aspirations of their people.

And I am confident that in the days, weeks and months to come we are going to be able to make progress on that issue.

So let me just summarize by saying that I think Prime Minister Netanyahu has the benefit of having served as Prime Minister previously. He has both youth and wisdom --

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I&rsquoll dispute youth, but -- (laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: -- and I think is in a position to achieve the security objectives of Israel, but also bring about historic peace. And I&rsquom confident that he&rsquos going to seize this moment. And the United States is going to do everything we can to be constructive, effective partners in this process.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: President Obama, thank you. Thank you for your friendship to Israel and your friendship to me. You&rsquore a great leader -- a great leader of the United States, a great leader of the world, a great friend of Israel, and someone who is acutely cognizant of our security concerns. And the entire people of Israel appreciate it, and I speak on their behalf.

We met before, but this is the first time that we&rsquore meeting as President and Prime Minister. So I was particularly pleased at your reaffirmation of the special relationship between Israel and the United States. We share the same goals and we face the same threats. The common goal is peace. Everybody in Israel, as in the United States, wants peace. The common threat we face are terrorist regimes and organizations that seek to undermine the peace and endanger both our peoples.

In this context, the worst danger we face is that Iran would develop nuclear military capabilities. Iran openly calls for our destruction, which is unacceptable by any standard. It threatens the moderate Arab regimes in the Middle East. It threatens U.S. interests worldwide. But if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it could give a nuclear umbrella to terrorists, or worse, it could actually give terrorists nuclear weapons. And that would put us all in great peril.

So in that context, I very much appreciate, Mr. President, your firm commitment to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear military capability, and also your statement that you&rsquore leaving all options on the table.

I share with you very much the desire to move the peace process forward. And I want to start peace negotiations with the Palestinians immediately. I would like to broaden the circle of peace to include others in the Arab world, if we could, Mr. President, so -- this (inaudible) that one shouldn&rsquot let go, maybe peace with the entire Arab world.

I want to make it clear that we don&rsquot want to govern the Palestinians. We want to live in peace with them. We want them to govern themselves, absent a handful of powers that could endanger the state of Israel. And for this there has to be a clear goal. The goal has to be an end to conflict. There will have to be compromises by Israelis and Palestinians alike. We&rsquore ready to do our share. We hope the Palestinians will do their share, as well. If we resume negotiations, as we plan to do, then I think that the Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state will have to also enable Israel to have the means to defend itself. And if those conditions are met, Israel&rsquos security conditions are met, and there&rsquos recognition of Israel&rsquos legitimacy, its permanent legitimacy, then I think we can envision an arrangement where Palestinians and Israelis live side by side in dignity, in security, and in peace.

And I look forward, Mr. President, to working with you, a true friend of Israel, to the achievement of our common goals, which are security, prosperity, and above all, peace.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. We&rsquore going to take a couple of questions. We&rsquore going to start with Steve.

Q Mr. President, you spoke at length, as did the Prime Minister, about Iran&rsquos nuclear program. Your program of engagement, policy of engagement, how long is that going to last? Is there a deadline?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I don&rsquot want to set an artificial deadline. I think it&rsquos important to recognize that Iran is in the midst of its own elections. As I think all of you, since you&rsquore all political reporters, are familiar with, election time is not always the best time to get business done.

Their elections will be completed in June, and we are hopeful that, at that point, there is going to be a serious process of engagement, first through the P5-plus-one process that&rsquos already in place, potentially through additional direct talks between the United States and Iran.

I want to reemphasize what I said earlier, that I believe it is not only in the interest of the international community that Iran not develop nuclear weapons, I firmly believe it is in Iran&rsquos interest not to develop nuclear weapons, because it would trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and be profoundly destabilizing in all sorts of ways. Iran can achieve its interests of security and international respect and prosperity for its people through other means, and I am prepared to make what I believe will be a persuasive argument, that there should be a different course to be taken.

The one thing we&rsquore also aware of is the fact that the history, of least, of negotiation with Iran is that there is a lot of talk but not always action and follow-through. And that&rsquos why it is important for us, I think, without having set an artificial deadline, to be mindful of the fact that we&rsquore not going to have talks forever. We&rsquore not going to create a situation in which talks become an excuse for inaction while Iran proceeds with developing a nuclear -- and deploying a nuclear weapon. That&rsquos something, obviously, Israel is concerned about, but it&rsquos also an issue of concern for the United States and for the international community as a whole.

My expectation would be that if we can begin discussions soon, shortly after the Iranian elections, we should have a fairly good sense by the end of the year as to whether they are moving in the right direction and whether the parties involved are making progress and that there&rsquos a good faith effort to resolve differences. That doesn&rsquot mean every issue would be resolved by that point, but it does mean that we&rsquoll probably be able to gauge and do a reassessment by the end of the year of this approach.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Aren&rsquot you concerned that your outstretched hand has been interpreted by extremists, especially Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, Meshal, as weakness? And since my colleague already asked about the deadline, if engagement fails, what then, Mr. President?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it&rsquos not clear to me why my outstretched hand would be interpreted as weakness.

Q The example of Qatar. They would have preferred to be on your side and then moved to the extremists, to Iran.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Oh, I think -- yes, I&rsquom not sure about that interpretation. Look, we&rsquove been in office a little over a hundred days now -- close to four months. We have put forward a clear principle that where we can resolve issues through negotiations and diplomacy, we should. We didn&rsquot expect -- and I don&rsquot think anybody in the international community or anybody in the Middle East, for that matter -- would expect that 30 years of antagonism and suspicion between Iran and the United States would be resolved in four months. So we think it&rsquos very important for us to give this a chance.

Now, understand that part of the reason that it&rsquos so important for us to take a diplomatic approach is that the approach that we&rsquove been taking, which is no diplomacy, obviously has not worked. Nobody disagrees with that. Hamas and Hezbollah have gotten stronger. Iran has been pursuing its nuclear capabilities undiminished. And so not talking -- that clearly hasn&rsquot worked. That&rsquos what&rsquos been tried. And so what we&rsquore going to do is try something new, which is actually engaging and reaching out to the Iranians.

The important thing is to make sure that there is a clear timetable of -- at which point we say these talks don&rsquot seem to be making any serious progress. It hasn&rsquot been tried before so we don&rsquot want to prejudge that, but as I said, by the end of the year I think we should have some sense as to whether or not these discussions are starting to yield significant benefits, whether we&rsquore starting to see serious movement on the part of the Iranians.

If that hasn&rsquot taken place, then I think the international community will see that it&rsquos not the United States or Israel or other countries that are seeking to isolate or victimize Iran rather, it is Iran itself which is isolating itself by willing to -- being unwilling to engage in serious discussions about how they can preserve their security without threatening other people&rsquos security -- which ultimately is what we want to achieve.

We want to achieve a situation where all countries in the region can pursue economic development and commercial ties and trade and do so without the threat that their populations are going to be subject to bombs and destruction.

That&rsquos what I think the Prime Minister is interested in, that&rsquos what I&rsquom interested in, and I hope that ends up being what the ruling officials in Iran are interested in, as well.

Q Right here. Thank you. Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister, can you each react to King Abdullah&rsquos statement of a week ago that we really are at a critical place in the conflict and that if this moment isn&rsquot seized and if a peace isn&rsquot achieved now, soon, that in a year, year and a half, we could see renewed major conflict, perhaps war? And do you agree with that assessment?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think we have to seize the moment and I think we&rsquore fortunate in having a leader like President Obama and a new government in Israel and perhaps a new understanding in the Arab world that I haven&rsquot seen in my lifetime. And you&rsquore very kind to be calling me young, but I&rsquom more than half a century old and in my 59 years in the life of the Jewish state, there&rsquos never been a time when Arabs and Israelis see a common threat the way we see it today and also see the need to join together in working towards peace while simultaneously defending ourselves against this common threat.

I think we have -- we have ways to capitalize on this sense of urgency and we&rsquore prepared to move with the President and with others in the Arab world if they&rsquore prepared to move, as well. And I think the important thing that we discussed, among other things, is how to buttress the Israeli-Palestinian peace tracks, which we want to resume right away, with participation from others in the Arab world how we give confidence to each other that would -- changes the reality, it changes the reality on the ground, changing political realities top-down, as well, while we work to broaden the circle of peace.

And I think that the sense of urgency that King Abdullah expressed is shared by me and shared by many others and I definitely know it&rsquos shared by President Obama.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Look, I think there&rsquos an extraordinary opportunity and the Prime Minister said it well. You have Arab states in the region -- the Jordanians, the Egyptians, the Saudis -- who I think are looking for an opportunity to break this long-standing impasse but aren&rsquot sure how to do it, and share concerns about Iran&rsquos potential development of a nuclear weapon. In order for us to potentially realign interests in the region in a constructive way, bolstering, to use the Prime Minister&rsquos word, the Palestinian-Israeli peace track is critical.

It will not be easy. It never has been easy. In discussions, I don&rsquot think the Prime Minister would mind me saying to him -- or saying publically what I said privately, which is that there is a recognition that the Palestinians are going to have to do a better job providing the kinds of security assurances that Israelis would need to achieve a two-state solution that, you know, the leadership of the Palestinians will have to gain additional legitimacy and credibility with their own people, and delivering services. And that&rsquos something that the United States and Israel can be helpful in seeing them accomplish.

The other Arab states have to be more supportive and be bolder in seeking potential normalization with Israel. And next week I will have the Palestinian Authority President Abbas as well as President Mubarak here and I will deliver that message to them.

Now, Israel is going to have to take some difficult steps as well, and I shared with the Prime Minister the fact that under the roadmap and under Annapolis that there&rsquos a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements. Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward. That&rsquos a difficult issue. I recognize that, but it&rsquos an important one and it has to be addressed.

I think the humanitarian situation in Gaza has to be addressed. Now, I was along the border in Sderot and saw the evidence of weapons that had been raining down on the heads of innocents in those Israeli cities, and that&rsquos unacceptable. So we&rsquove got to work with the Egyptians to deal with the smuggling of weapons and it has to be meaningful because no Prime Minister of any country is going to tolerate missiles raining down on their citizens&rsquo heads.

On the other hand, the fact is, is that if the people of Gaza have no hope, if they can&rsquot even get clean water at this point, if the border closures are so tight that it is impossible for reconstruction and humanitarian efforts to take place, then that is not going to be a recipe for Israel&rsquos long-term security or a constructive peace track to move forward.

So all these things are going to have to come together and it&rsquos going to be difficult, but the one thing that I&rsquove committed to the Prime Minister is we are going to be engaged, the United States is going to roll up our sleeves. We want to be a strong partner in this process.

I have great confidence in Prime Minister Netanyahu&rsquos political skills, but also his historical vision and his recognition that during the years that he is Prime Minister this second go-around, he is probably going to be confronted with as many important decisions about the long-term strategic interests of Israel as any Prime Minister that we&rsquove seen in a very long time. And I have great confidence that he&rsquos going to rise to the occasion and I actually think that you&rsquore going to see movement in -- among Arab states that we have not seen before.

But the trick is to try to coordinate all this in a very delicate political environment. And that&rsquos why I&rsquom so pleased to have George Mitchell, who is standing behind the scrum there, as our special envoy, because I&rsquom very confident that as somebody who was involved in equally delicate negotiations in Northern Ireland, he is somebody who recognizes that if you apply patience and determination, and you keep your eye on the long-term goal, as the Prime Minister articulated -- which is a wide-ranging peace, not a grudging peace, not a transitory peace, but a wide-ranging, regional peace -- that we can make great progress.

Q Mr. President, the Israeli Prime Minister and the Israeli administration have said on many occasions -- on some occasions that only if the Iranian threat will be solved, they can achieve real progress on the Palestinian threat. Do you agree with that kind of linkage?

And to the Israeli Prime Minister, you were speaking about the political track. Are you willing to get into final status issues/negotiations like borders, like Jerusalem in the near future, based on the two-state solution? And do you still hold this opinion about the linkage between the Iranian threat and your ability to achieve any progress on the Palestinian threat?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me say this. There&rsquos no doubt that it is difficult for any Israeli government to negotiate in a situation in which they feel under immediate threat. That&rsquos not conducive to negotiations. And as I&rsquove said before, I recognize Israel&rsquos legitimate concerns about the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon when they have a president who has in the past said that Israel should not exist. That would give any leader of any country pause.

Having said that, if there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way. To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians -- between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with a potential Iranian threat.

Having said that, I think that dealing with Iran&rsquos potential nuclear capacity is something that we should be doing even if there already was peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And I think that pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace is something that is in Israeli&rsquos security interests and the United States&rsquo national security interests, even if Iran was not pursuing a nuclear weapon. They&rsquore both important.

And we have to move aggressively on both fronts. And I think that based on my conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he agrees with me that they&rsquore both important. That&rsquos not to say that he&rsquos not making a calculation, as he should, about what are some of the most immediate threats to Israeli&rsquos security, and I understand that.

But, look, imagine how much less mischief a Hezbollah or a Hamas could do if in fact we had moved a Palestinian-Israeli track in a direction that gave the Palestinian people hope. And if Hezbollah and Hamas is weakened, imagine how that impacts Iran&rsquos ability to make mischief, and vice versa.

I mean, so obviously these things are related, but they are important separately. And I&rsquom confident that the United States, working with Israel, can make progress on both fronts.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: We&rsquove had extraordinarily friendly and constructive talks here today, and I&rsquom very grateful to the President for that. We want to move peace forward, and we want to ward off the great threats.

There isn&rsquot a policy linkage, and that&rsquos what I hear the President saying, and that&rsquos what I&rsquom saying too. And I&rsquove always said there&rsquos not a policy linkage between pursuing simultaneously peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, and to trying to deal with removing the threat of a nuclear bomb.

There are causal links. The President talked about one of them. It would help, obviously, unite a broad front against Iran if we had peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And conversely, if Iran went nuclear, it would threaten the progress towards peace and destabilize the entire area, and threaten existing peace agreement.

So it&rsquos very clear to us. I think we actually -- we don&rsquot see closely on it, we see exactly eye to eye on this -- that we want to move simultaneously and then parallel on two fronts: the front of peace, and the front of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear capability.

On the front of peace, the important thing for me is to resume negotiations as rapidly as possible, and to -- and my view is less one of terminology, but one of substance. And I ask myself, what do we end up with? If we end up with another Gaza -- the President has described to you there&rsquos rockets falling out of Gaza -- that is something we don&rsquot want to happen, because a terror base next to our cities that doesn&rsquot call -- recognize Israel&rsquos existence and calls for our destruction and asks for our destruction is not arguing peace.

If, however, the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, if they -- if they fight terror, if they educate their children for peace and to a better future, then I think we can come at a substantive solution that allows the two people to live side by side in security and peace and I add prosperity, because I&rsquom a great believer in this.

So I think the terminology will take care of itself if we have the substantive understanding. And I think we can move forward on this. I have great confidence in your leadership, Mr. President, and in your friendship to my country, and in your championing of peace and security. And the answer is, both come together -- peace and security are intertwined. They&rsquore inseparable.


Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel in joint press availability

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I just completed an excellent one-on-one discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I want to welcome him back to the White House.
I want to, first of all, thank him for the wonderful statement that he made in honor of the Fourth of July, our Independence Day, when he was still in Israel. And it marked just one more chapter in the extraordinary friendship between our two countries.
As Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated in his speech, the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable. It encompasses our national security interests, our strategic interests, but most importantly, the bond of two democracies who share a common set of values and whose people have grown closer and closer as time goes on.
During our discussions in our private meeting we covered a wide range of issues. We discussed the issue of Gaza, and I commended Prime Minister Netanyahu on the progress that’s been made in allowing more goods into Gaza. We’ve seen real progress on the ground. I think it’s been acknowledged that it has moved more quickly and more effectively than many people anticipated.
Obviously there’s still tensions and issues there that have to be resolved, but our two countries are working cooperatively together to deal with these issues. The Quartet has been, I think, very helpful as well. And we believe that there is a way to make sure that the people of Gaza are able to prosper economically, while Israel is able to maintain its legitimate security needs in not allowing missiles and weapons to get to Hamas.
We discussed the issue of Iran, and we pointed out that as a consequence of some hard work internationally, we have instituted through the U.N. Security Council the toughest sanctions ever directed at an Iranian government. In addition, last week I signed our own set of sanctions, coming out of the United States Congress, as robust as any that we’ve ever seen. Other countries are following suit. And so we intend to continue to put pressure on Iran to meet its international obligations and to cease the kinds of provocative behavior that has made it a threat to its neighbors and the international community.
We had a extensive discussion about the prospects for Middle East peace. I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he’s willing to take risks for peace. And during our conversation, he once again reaffirmed his willingness to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians around what I think should be the goal not just of the two principals involved, but the entire world, and that is two states living side by side in peace and security.
Israel’s security needs met, the Palestinians having a sovereign state that they call their own — those are goals that have obviously escaped our grasp for decades now. But now more than ever I think is the time for us to seize on that vision. And I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so. It’s going to be difficult it’s going to be hard work. But we’ve seen already proximity talks taking place. My envoy, George Mitchell, has helped to organize five of them so far. We expect those proximity talks to lead to direct talks, and I believe that the government of Israel is prepared to engage in such direct talks, and I commend the Prime Minister for that.
There are going to need to be a whole set of confidence-building measures to make sure that people are serious and that we’re sending a signal to the region that this isn’t just more talk and more process without action. I think it is also important to recognize that the Arab states have to be supportive of peace, because, although ultimately this is going to be determined by the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, they can’t succeed unless you have the surrounding states having as — a greater investment in the process than we’ve seen so far.
Finally, we discussed issues that arose out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference. And I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues. We strongly believe that, given its size, its history, the region that it’s in, and the threats that are leveled against us — against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region. And that’s why we remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel’s security. And the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.
So I just want to say once again that I thought the discussion that we had was excellent. We’ve seen over the last year how our relationship has broadened. Sometimes it doesn’t get publicized, but on a whole range of issues — economic, military-to-military, issues related to Israel maintaining its qualitative military edge, intelligence-sharing, how we are able to work together effectively on the international front — that in fact our relationship is continuing to improve. And I think a lot of that has to do with the excellent work that the Prime Minister has done. So I’m grateful.
And welcome, once again, to the White House.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you, Mr. President.
The President and I had an extensive, excellent discussion in which we discussed a broad range of issues. These include of course our own cooperation in the fields of intelligence and security. And exactly as the President said, it is extensive. Not everything is seen by the public, but it is seen and appreciated by us.
We understand fully that we will work together in the coming months and years to protect our common interests, our countries, our peoples, against new threats. And at the same time, we want to explore the possibility of peace.
The greatest new threat on the horizon, the single most dominant issue for many of us, is the prospect that Iran would acquire nuclear weapons. Iran is brutally terrorizing its people, spreading terrorism far and wide. And I very much appreciate the President’s statement that he is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
That has been translated by the President through his leadership at the Security Council, which passed sanctions against Iran by the U.S. bill that the President signed just a few days ago. And I urge other leaders to follow the President’s lead, and other countries to follow the U.S. lead, to adopt much tougher sanctions against Iran, primarily those directed against its energy sector.
As the President said, we discussed a great deal about activating, moving forward the quest for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We’re committed to that peace. I’m committed to that peace. And this peace I think will better the lives of Israelis, of Palestinians, and it certainly would change our region.
Israelis are prepared to do a lot to get that peace in place, but they want to make sure that after all the steps they take, that what we get is a secure peace. We don’t want a repeat of the situation where we vacate territories and those are overtaken by Iran’s proxies and used as a launching ground for terrorist attacks or rocket attacks.
I think there are solutions that we can adopt. But in order to proceed to the solutions, we need to begin negotiations in order to end them. We’ve begun proximity talks. I think it’s high time to begin direct talks. I think with the help of President Obama, President Abbas and myself should engage in direct talks to reach a political settlement of peace, coupled with security and prosperity.
This requires that the Palestinian Authority prepare its people for peace — schools, textbooks, and so on. But I think at the end of the day, peace is the best option for all of us, and I think we have a unique opportunity and a unique time to do it.
The President says that he has a habit of confounding all the cynics and all the naysayers and all those who preclude possibility, and he’s shown it time and time again. I think I’ve had my opportunity to confound some cynics myself, and I think if we work together, with President Abbas, then we can bring a great message of hope to our peoples, to the region, and to the world.
One final point, Mr. President — I want to thank you for reaffirming to me in private and now in public as you did the longstanding U.S. commitments to Israel on matters of vital strategic importance. I want to thank you, too, for the great hospitality you and the First Lady have shown Sara and me and our entire delegation. And I think we have to redress the balance — you know, I’ve been coming here a lot. It’s about time —

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: — you and the First Lady came to Israel, sir.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We look forward to it. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Any time.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much. Thank you.

All right, we’ve got time for one question each. I’m going to call on Stephen Collinson, AFP.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. As part of the steps which need to be taken to move proximity talks on to direct talks, do you think it would be helpful for Israel to extend the partial settlement moratorium, which is set to expire in September?
And if I could just briefly ask the Prime Minister, with regards to the sanctions you mentioned, do you think that these measures will contain or halt Iran’s nuclear program where others have failed?


Transcript of remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I just completed an excellent one-on-one discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I want to welcome him back to the White House.

I want to, first of all, thank him for the wonderful statement that he made in honor of the Fourth of July, our Independence Day, when he was still in Israel. And it marked just one more chapter in the extraordinary friendship between our two countries.

As Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated in his speech, the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable. It encompasses our national security interests, our strategic interests, but most importantly, the bond of two democracies who share a common set of values and whose people have grown closer and closer as time goes on.

Story continues after the break.

During our discussions in our private meeting we covered a wide range of issues. We discussed the issue of Gaza, and I commended Prime Minister Netanyahu on the progress that’s been made in allowing more goods into Gaza. We’ve seen real progress on the ground. I think it’s been acknowledged that it has moved more quickly and more effectively than many people anticipated.

Obviously there’s still tensions and issues there that have to be resolved, but our two countries are working cooperatively together to deal with these issues. The Quartet has been, I think, very helpful as well. And we believe that there is a way to make sure that the people of Gaza are able to prosper economically, while Israel is able to maintain its legitimate security needs in not allowing missiles and weapons to get to Hamas.

We discussed the issue of Iran, and we pointed out that as a consequence of some hard work internationally, we have instituted through the U.N. Security Council the toughest sanctions ever directed at an Iranian government. In addition, last week I signed our own set of sanctions, coming out of the United States Congress, as robust as any that we’ve ever seen. Other countries are following suit. And so we intend to continue to put pressure on Iran to meet its international obligations and to cease the kinds of provocative behavior that has made it a threat to its neighbors and the international community.

We had a extensive discussion about the prospects for Middle East peace. I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he’s willing to take risks for peace. And during our conversation, he once again reaffirmed his willingness to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians around what I think should be the goal not just of the two principals involved, but the entire world, and that is two states living side by side in peace and security.

Israel’s security needs met, the Palestinians having a sovereign state that they call their own—those are goals that have obviously escaped our grasp for decades now. But now more than ever I think is the time for us to seize on that vision. And I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so. It’s going to be difficult it’s going to be hard work. But we’ve seen already proximity talks taking place. My envoy, George Mitchell, has helped to organize five of them so far. We expect those proximity talks to lead to direct talks, and I believe that the government of Israel is prepared to engage in such direct talks, and I commend the Prime Minister for that.

There are going to need to be a whole set of confidence-building measures to make sure that people are serious and that we’re sending a signal to the region that this isn’t just more talk and more process without action. I think it is also important to recognize that the Arab states have to be supportive of peace, because, although ultimately this is going to be determined by the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, they can’t succeed unless you have the surrounding states having as—a greater investment in the process than we’ve seen so far.

Finally, we discussed issues that arose out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference. And I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues. We strongly believe that, given its size, its history, the region that it’s in, and the threats that are leveled against us—against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region. And that’s why we remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel’s security. And the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.

So I just want to say once again that I thought the discussion that we had was excellent. We’ve seen over the last year how our relationship has broadened. Sometimes it doesn’t get publicized, but on a whole range of issues—economic, military-to-military, issues related to Israel maintaining its qualitative military edge, intelligence-sharing, how we are able to work together effectively on the international front—that in fact our relationship is continuing to improve. And I think a lot of that has to do with the excellent work that the Prime Minister has done. So I’m grateful.

And welcome, once again, to the White House.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you, Mr. President.

The President and I had an extensive, excellent discussion in which we discussed a broad range of issues. These include of course our own cooperation in the fields of intelligence and security. And exactly as the President said, it is extensive. Not everything is seen by the public, but it is seen and appreciated by us.

We understand fully that we will work together in the coming months and years to protect our common interests, our countries, our peoples, against new threats. And at the same time, we want to explore the possibility of peace.

The greatest new threat on the horizon, the single most dominant issue for many of us, is the prospect that Iran would acquire nuclear weapons. Iran is brutally terrorizing its people, spreading terrorism far and wide. And I very much appreciate the President’s statement that he is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

That has been translated by the President through his leadership at the Security Council, which passed sanctions against Iran by the U.S. bill that the President signed just a few days ago. And I urge other leaders to follow the President’s lead, and other countries to follow the U.S. lead, to adopt much tougher sanctions against Iran, primarily those directed against its energy sector.

As the President said, we discussed a great deal about activating, moving forward the quest for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We’re committed to that peace. I’m committed to that peace. And this peace I think will better the lives of Israelis, of Palestinians, and it certainly would change our region.

Israelis are prepared to do a lot to get that peace in place, but they want to make sure that after all the steps they take, that what we get is a secure peace. We don’t want a repeat of the situation where we vacate territories and those are overtaken by Iran’s proxies and used as a launching ground for terrorist attacks or rocket attacks.

I think there are solutions that we can adopt. But in order to proceed to the solutions, we need to begin negotiations in order to end them. We’ve begun proximity talks. I think it’s high time to begin direct talks. I think with the help of President Obama, President Abbas and myself should engage in direct talks to reach a political settlement of peace, coupled with security and prosperity.

This requires that the Palestinian Authority prepare its people for peace—schools, textbooks, and so on. But I think at the end of the day, peace is the best option for all of us, and I think we have a unique opportunity and a unique time to do it.

The President says that he has a habit of confounding all the cynics and all the naysayers and all those who preclude possibility, and he’s shown it time and time again. I think I’ve had my opportunity to confound some cynics myself, and I think if we work together, with President Abbas, then we can bring a great message of hope to our peoples, to the region, and to the world.

One final point, Mr. President—I want to thank you for reaffirming to me in private and now in public as you did the longstanding U.S. commitments to Israel on matters of vital strategic importance. I want to thank you, too, for the great hospitality you and the First Lady have shown Sara and me and our entire delegation. And I think we have to redress the balance—you know, I’ve been coming here a lot. It’s about time—

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: —you and the First Lady came to Israel, sir.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We look forward to it. Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Any time.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much. Thank you.

All right, we’ve got time for one question each. I’m going to call on Stephen Collinson, AFP.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. As part of the steps which need to be taken to move proximity talks on to direct talks, do you think it would be helpful for Israel to extend the partial settlement moratorium, which is set to expire in September?

And if I could just briefly ask the Prime Minister, with regards to the sanctions you mentioned, do you think that these measures will contain or halt Iran’s nuclear program where others have failed?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let me—let me, first of all, say that I think the Israeli government, working through layers of various governmental entities and jurisdictions, has shown restraint over the last several months that I think has been conducive to the prospects of us getting into direct talks.

And my hope is, is that once direct talks have begun, well before the moratorium has expired, that that will create a climate in which everybody feels a greater investment in success. Not every action by one party or the other is taken as a reason for not engaging in talks. So there ends up being more room created by more trust. And so I want to just make sure that we sustain that over the next—over the next several weeks.

I do think that there are a range of confidence-building measures that can be taken by all sides that improve the prospects of a successful negotiation. And I’ve discussed some of those privately with the Prime Minister. When President Abbas was here, I discussed some of those same issues with him.

I think it’s very important that the Palestinians not look for excuses for incitement, that they are not engaging in provocative language that at the international level, they are maintaining a constructive tone, as opposed to looking for opportunities to embarrass Israel.

At the same time, I’ve said to Prime Minister Netanyahu—I don’t think he minds me sharing it publicly—that Abu Mazen working with Fayyad have done some very significant things when it comes to the security front. And so us being able to widen the scope of their responsibilities in the West Bank is something that I think would be very meaningful to the Palestinian people.
I think that some of the steps that have already been taken in Gaza help to build confidence. And if we continue to make progress on that front, then Palestinians can see in very concrete terms what peace can bring that rhetoric and violence cannot bring—and that is people actually having an opportunity to raise their children, and make a living, and buy and sell goods, and build a life for themselves, which is ultimately what people in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories want.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think the latest sanctions adopted by the U.N. create illegitimacy or create
de-legitimization for Iran’s nuclear program, and that is important. I think the sanctions the President signed the other day actually have teeth. They bite.

The question is—how much do you need to bite is something I cannot answer now. But if other nations adopted similar sanctions, that would increase the effect. The more like-minded countries join in the American-led effort that President Obama has signed into act, into law, I think the better we’ll be able to give you an answer to your question.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Is there somebody you want to ask here?

Q Mr. President, in the past year, you distanced yourself from Israel and gave a cold shoulder to the Prime Minister. Do you think this policy was a mistake? Do you think it contributes to the bashing of Israel by others? And is that—you change it now, and do you trust now Prime Minister Netanyahu?

And if I may, Mr. Prime Minister, specifically, did you discuss with the President the continuing of the freezing of settlements after September? And did you tell him that you’re going to keep on building after this period is over?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me, first of all, say that the premise of your question was wrong and I entirely disagree with it. If you look at every public statement that I’ve made over the last year and a half, it has been a constant reaffirmation of the special relationship between the United States and Israel, that our commitment to Israel’s security has been unwavering. And, in fact, there aren’t any concrete policies that you could point to that would contradict that.

And in terms of my relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I know the press, both in Israel and stateside, enjoys seeing if there’s news there. But the fact of the matter is that I’ve trusted Prime Minister Netanyahu since I met him before I was elected President, and have said so both publicly and privately.

I think that he is dealing with a very complex situation in a very tough neighborhood. And what I have consistently shared with him is my interest in working with him—not at cross-purposes—so that we can achieve the kind of peace that will ensure Israel’s security for decades to come.

And that’s going to mean some tough choices. And there are going to be times where he and I are having robust discussions about what kind of choices need to be made. But the underlying approach never changes, and that is the United States is committed to Israel’s security we are committed to that special bond and we are going to do what’s required to back that up, not just with words but with actions.

We are going to continually work with the Prime Minister and the entire Israeli government, as well as the Israeli people, so that we can achieve what I think has to be everybody’s goal, which is that people feel secure. They don’t feel like a rocket is going to be landing on their head sometime. They don’t feel as if there’s a growing population that wants to direct violence against Israel.

That requires work and that requires some difficult choices—both at the strategic level and the tactical level. And this is something that the Prime Minister understands, and why I think that we’re going to be able to work together not just over the next few months but hopefully over the next several years.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: The President and I discussed concrete steps that could be done now, in the coming days and the coming weeks, to move the peace process further along in a very robust way. This is what we focused our conversation on. And when I say the next few weeks, that’s what I mean. The President means that, too.

Let me make a general observation about the question you posed to the President. And here I’ll have to paraphrase Mark Twain, that the reports about the demise of the special U.S.-Israel relations—relationship aren’t just premature, they’re just flat wrong. There’s a depth and richness of this relationship that is expressed every day. Our teams talk. We don’t make it public. The only thing that’s public is that you can have differences on occasion in the best of families and the closest of families that comes out public—and sometimes in a twisted way, too.

What is not told is the fact that we have an enduring bond of values, interests, beginning with security and the way that we share both information and other things to help the common defense of our common interests—and many others in the region who don’t often admit to the beneficial effect of this cooperation.

So I think there’s—the President said it best in his speech in Cairo. He said in front of the entire Islamic world, he said, the bond between Israel and the United States is unbreakable. And I can affirm that to you today.


Obama Draws the Line, Short of Israel's

US President Barack Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington Sunday the he would use “all elements of American power” to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon [1] .

But his emphasis on diplomacy rather than war – and his refusal, at least in public, to define a red line short of an actual bomb -- suggests that U.S. and Israeli policies on Iran continue to diverge in important respects.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make his own speech to the annual conclave of the Israel lobby after he meets with Obama in the Oval Office. Republican candidates for the U.S. presidency will also address the conference this week and may seek to exploit perceived gaps between Netanyahu and Obama.

Netanyahu, speaking in Canada Sunday, said he welcomed Obama’s remarks. But the Israeli leader has been far more bellicose, warning that time is running out to stop Iran from developing the “capability” to make a weapon and expressing opposition to new talks with Iran unless it first stops enriching uranium.

The lack of trust between the United States and Israel over Iran is serious — judging by the number of recent visits by Israeli officials to Washington and Americans to Tel Aviv, as well as leaks by disgruntled Netanyahu supporters to the media [2] .

The problem for Netanyahu is that the Obama administration does not view Iran — even an Iran with nuclear weapons — as an existential threat that is worth starting another war. This has been made abundantly clear over the past few months by a host of current and former US officials including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, insists on stressing the option of a military strike in hopes of keeping Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold and of maintaining pressure on Europe and the United States to tighten economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic. But with Iran’s leaders already on edge because of the sanctions, assassinations of scientists and internal political dissension, the chances for miscalculation are high. The consequences of a conflict would be dire for Americans, Israelis, Iranians and the wider oil-consuming world. Meanwhile, all the war talk is pushing up the price of oil — inadvertently helping Iran.

On Sunday, Obama decried what he called the “loose talk” of war and spoke eloquently of the costs of military conflict for a nation that has fought two wars in the last decade. The “most searing” moments of his presidency, he said, had come when meeting the relatives of Americans killed and injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“As commander in chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war,” he said. He said that economic sanctions were having an impact on Iran and that diplomacy “backed by pressure” could still succeed.

Obama also refrained from using the phrase “nuclear weapons capability” and spoke only of actual nuclear weapons. That suggests that the U.S. would not contemplate military action unless Iran actually tested a weapon. Israel wants to act much earlier but lacks the resources to do as much damage as the United States could do.

However, even Israel concedes that military action would only delay an Iranian nuclear weapon and might even cause Iran to accelerate efforts to get a bomb. Obama noted Sunday that “the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons.”

While Obama denied that his policy is one of containing an Iran, many analysts believe that a nuclear-armed Iran can be deterred and contained. Even if Iran were to develop such a weapon, they say, it would never use one because to do so would be suicidal.

A recent report [3] by Anthony Cordesman and Alexander Wilner for the Center for Strategic and International Studies notes that Israel, which has at least 100 nuclear weapons, poses an existential threat to Iran since it could destroy “five to seven major Iranian cities.” Israel also has three ways of delivering a nuclear bomb: by missile, submarine or plane.

Iran insists it does not intend to make weapons the Obama administration says that Iran does not appear to have made the decision to build or test a bomb. However, if that policy were to change, one Iranian bomb would do extensive damage to the Jewish state. An Iran with nuclear weapons would also likely convince others in the region — in particular, Saudi Arabia — to acquire nuclear weapons of their own.

Barry Pavel, director of the International Security Program at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, says deterring a nuclear Iran would require a more complicated policy than that which for 50 years prevented a nuclear confrontation between the West and the old Soviet Union.

“I’m not saying it won’t work but it’s not as stable an equilibrium as during the Cold War,” he said in an interview.

He added that he was not optimistic that differences over Iran between Netanyahu and Obama can be bridged.

Aaron David Miller, who dealt with Israeli officials for decades as a US peace negotiator, said he doubts Netanyahu would start a conflict, no matter his fears of Iran and his dislike of Obama.

“Nobody, not even the [Israeli] prime minister, wants to put himself in a position where he is undertaking unilateral military action in the face of American neutrality or opposition,” Miller said.

Dennis Ross, another former US negotiator who recently left the Obama White House after serving as a senior adviser on the region, said that while “the views will never be identical, the gap [between Obama and Netanyahu] is less profound than people think.” Obama, Ross noted, takes the issue of curbing the spread of nuclear weapons very seriously and would regard a nuclear Iran as a “devastating” blow to the nonproliferation regime.

The differences, Ross said, center over what the US would be willing to concede to Iran in terms of uranium enrichment and the time frame for negotiations, which he said could resume as early as the end of March. Israel wants no enrichment and worries that Iran will use talks as a delaying mechanism while amassing more material for weapons in locations that cannot be easily targeted. [4]

It is clear that the Obama administration has to work on a number of fronts to calm Israel and contain Iran, seeking to retard the Iranian program while providing reassurance to Israel and Iran’s Arab adversaries that Iran could not commit an act of nuclear aggression and survive as a viable state.

With US political polls shifting increasingly toward Obama as the Republican nomination fight drags on, Netanyahu may also calculate that a bigger and more immediate threat to Israel would be to alienate an administration that looks increasingly likely to govern the United States for the next four years.

Barbara Slavin is Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, specializing on Iran.


Oren: Obama did not ‘snub’ Netanyahu

Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, told top Democrats he hosted for dinner this week that President Obama never "snubbed" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their March 23 meeting.

According to the National Jewish Democratic Council, whose officers attended the dinner, Oren knocked down details of the snub — some reported in the media, some circulating in the kind of emails that insinuate exclamation marks into your inbox: There was no photo-op because none was required, the meeting was last minute and unofficial Obama did not quit Netanyahu to dine with the kids Netanyahu came in through the front door. (This loony rumor — that Bibi came in through the back door — has really upended me. Would someone mind telling me which is, exactly, the front door in that convoluted mansion?)

Anyway, here’s the NJDC text. They say it’s been vetted with the embassy we’ve got a call into the embassy.



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