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Petraeus Says He Doesn’t Blame Israel for Endangering U.S. Interests

Commander of the U.S. Military’s Central Command Gen. David Petraeus phoned his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, this week to deny reports that he had blamed Israeli policy for the failure in a regional solution and for endangering U.S. interests.

Earlier this month, Petraeus warned the Pentagon that “America’s relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America’s soldiers,” in a posting on the Foreign Policy Web site.

In a 56-page report, the Central Command had written: “The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests,” the CENTCOM report read.

Petraeus told reporters on Thursday that the report ? which he claimed had been taken out of context – had been drafted because: “We noted in there that there was a perception at times that America sides with Israel and so forth. And I mean, that is a perception. It is there. I don’t think that’s disputable.”

“But I think people inferred from what that said and then repeated it a couple of times and bloggers picked it up and spun it,” he added. “And I think that has been unhelpful, frankly.”

Responding to questions regarding that report, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned that the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict gave enemies of the two allies the opportunity to “exploit” the lack of a political settlement.

“Lack of progress toward Middle East peace is clearly an issue that is exploited by our adversaries in the region and is a source of certainly political challenge,” said Gates. “Whether it has a direct impact, I’m not entirely sure. But there is no question that the absence of Middle East peace does affect U.S. national security interests in the region.”

“Lack of progress toward Middle East peace is clearly an issue that is exploited by our adversaries in the region and is a source of certainly political challenge,” he said. “Whether it has a direct impact, I’m not entirely sure. But there is no question that the absence of Middle East peace does affect U.S. national security interests in the region.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, meanwhile, told reporters at the same briefing that the relationship between the U.S. Army and the Israel Defense Forces remained “exceptionally” strong.

Mullen added that he had been in contact with IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi twice this week and that the U.S. was concerned with Israel’s security because:

“It is in our national interests obviously or we wouldn’t be so engaged… the United States has considered peace in the Middle East to be a national security interest for decades.”

Also Thursday, th U.S. State Department said that it was still “working on keeping proximity talks moving forward with goal of resuming direct negotiations as soon as possible,” despite the recent tensions between the U.S. and Israel over construction in East Jerusalem.

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