WASHINGTON (CN) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it is “high time” for direct peace talks for the Middle East, speaking after a meeting Tuesday with President Obama at the White House. “When I say in the next few weeks, that’s what I mean,” Netanyahu said. “And the president means that too.”
“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,” Netanyahu said.
In remarks after the meeting, both leaders rejected media reports of tension between the two countries.
When a reporter from the Israeli press asked about Obama’s having “distanced” himself from Israel over the past year, Obama said, “The premise of your question was wrong.” Obama said he has continually expressed the United States’ “unwavering” support of Israeli security, calling the relationship between the two countries “unbreakable.”
“The U.S. is committed to Israel’s security,” Obama said. “And we are going to do what’s required to back that up, not just with words but with action.”
Netanyahu said media reports about the “the demise of the special U.S.-Israel relations” are “just flat wrong.” Netanyahu said members of both leadership teams talked every day, and said the countries shared the same interests, “beginning with security.”
Netanyahu said the biggest threat in the region was the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu praised the latest U.S. sanctions on Iran, which ban U.S. banks from working with foreign banks that do business with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, among other measures. The sanctions “actually have teeth,” Netanyahu said. “They bite.”
“We intend to continue to put pressure on Iran,” Obama said.
Obama said U.S. envoy Geroge Mitchell has instigated several proximity talks for peace in the region, which are designed to lead to direct talks.
“I think it is high time to begin direct talks,” Netanyahu said. “We want to explore the possibility of peace.”
Netanyahu said Israel was prepared to “do a lot to get that peace,” but warned that, “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.”
Obama said the key was to ensure that Palestinians weren’t looking for “excuses for incitement” or “opportunities to embarrass Israel.”
Obama said he discussed in separate meetings with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas specific measures that could be taken to improve the prospect of successful negotiations, including increasing Palestianian responsibilities in the West Bank.
“We need to begin negotiations in order to end them,” Netanyahu said.
The meeting was originally scheduled for last month, but Netanyahu called it off after the Israeli military raid on flotilla aid ships headed to Gaza.
It was the fifth time the two leaders have met since Netanyahu took office last spring.