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Netanyahu Says Obama Meeting was ‘Important’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday voiced confidence that his meeting Monday with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington would benefit Israel’s security and peacemaking efforts, adding that “I think this visit will turn out to have been very important.”

Netanyahu, whose ties with Washington have been strained by Israel’s settlement construction in the West Bank, met U.S. President Barack Obama in a hundred-minute closed-door meeting on Monday evening, during which the two discussed Iran’s nuclear ambitions as well as stalled Middle East peace talks.

“It was a very focused and very positive conversation,” Netanyahu said before departing. “This conversation dealt with the range of subjects that are important for the security of Israel, and for our joint efforts to advance peace.”

After the meeting concluded late Monday, the White House issued a statment saying, “The president reaffirmed our strong commitment to Israel’s security, and discussed security cooperation on a range of issues.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Ambassador Michael Oren, National Security Council chief Uzi Arad and Netanyahu’s envoy in Washignton Yitzhak Molcho joined the premier for part of the meeting.

A press briefing with Netanyahu scheduled for Tuesday morning was canceled. The prime minister was scheduled to leave Washington on Tuesday for Paris, where he is to meet with French President Nicholas Sarkozy on Wednesday.

Prior to the meeting, sources close to Netanyahu said he would tell Obama that he was “very serious” about wanting to advance peace talks with the Palestinians during the two meeting on Monday.

The last-minute scheduling of Netanyahu’s White House meeting, after Israeli officials said over the past several weeks that Netanyahu hoped to see Obama, was widely seen as a sign of strained relations between the two leaders.

“We mean business,” Netanyahu was to tell the American president, and add that Israel was ready to be “generous” in scaling back the construction in West Bank settlements.

Before sitting down with Netanyahu, Obama and members of his senior staff visited with Jewish leaders from across the country who were attending the meeting of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Obama thanked the Jewish leaders for their work in their own communities, and recognized the Jewish Federations for the “countless hours of tzedakah (charity) performed every day of every week.”

In the past, Netanyahu has rebuffed Obama’s calls for a complete freeze on settlement activity, including the expansion of current ones. The Palestinians have demanded a settlement freeze as a condition for the resumption of stalled peace talks. The opposing standpoints have effectively brought the peace process to a halt.

Netanyahu was also going to tell Obama that there was never any Israeli intention to halt settlement construction before entering into talks with the Palestinians. “What more do I need to do?” he was to ask.

Sources close to the prime minister have said that Netanyahu is convinced he is doing everything in his power to advance the peace process.

Netanyahu was also to voice his willingness to make concessions in efforts to achieve an agreement. However, he was to stress his refusal to compromise Israel’s security in the process, placing an emphasis on the importance of preventing the influx of weapons into any territory that Israel should withdraw from under a future deal.

He was to add that up until this point, the security arrangements between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and Gaza have proven ineffective.

However, at the State Department, spokesman Ian C. Kelly said the administration’s special envoy for Mideast peace, George Mitchell, has no immediate plans to return to the region to continue his push for a resumption of peace talks.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs fielded questions ahead of the Netanyahu-Obama meeting, saying that the “policy of the United States government for many decades has been no more settlements. That’s not something that is new to this administration. It’s something that I think has gotten disproportionate media coverage, but it’s not a policy difference in this administration and previous administrations.”

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