Netanyahu, Obama discuss Iran nuclear threat
US President Barack Obama spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for an hour Tuesday night and reaffirmed that they are united in their determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the White House said.
The two leaders "discussed the cooperation on Iran and other security issues and agreed to continue their close consultations going forward," the statement said.
The conversation between the two comes amid heightened tensions between Jerusalem and Washington over Netanyahu's demand that the US set "red lines" for Tehran's nuclear program.
The White House also denied reports that Obama had refused to meet Netanyahu in New York on the sidelines of the UN's General Assembly later this month. "Contrary to reports in the press, there was never a request for Prime Minister Netanyahu to meet with President Obama in Washington, nor was a request for a meeting ever denied," the statement said.
Earlier on Tuesday, the White House said the meeting would not be possible over the two leader's conflicting schedules.
It appears that Obama's campaign realized that this response would not go over well with the Jewish voters and could create a problem ahead of the November elections.
Tensions are also running high within Israel's cabinet. On Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak issued an unusually harsh statement against Netanyahu's conduct vis-à-vis Washington.
"The United States is Israel's principal ally and despite the differences on and the importance of keeping Israel's ability to operation independently, we must also keep in mind the strategic importance of the partnership with the United States, and refrain from hurting it," he said.
Sources at the Likud are accusing Barak of treason and being "motivated by narrow political interests." Meanwhile, the Americans are criticizing Netanyahu for taking advantage of the US elections to push Washington into "problematic positions."
This followed a harsh statement on Netanyahu's part who claimed Tuesday that the US has no moral right to stop Israel from striking Iran after refusing to set a "red line" for Iran's nuclear program.
"Barak realizes there is a political vacuum," a Likud source said. "He realizes there is no centrist candidate for prime minister or even for defense minister and is exploring the possibility of alternatives to Netanyahu." Likud officials close to Netanyahu said that the prime minister and defense minister do not fully trust each other. "There is cooperation between them, but reports of complete harmony are untrue.
For months now Barak has been seeking political independence and is trying to separate himself from Netanyahu. The prime minister has suspected Barak for months and his loyalty is definitely in question."
Netanyahu himself is under fire on the international front.
"The White House treats Bibi as a bitter and hated Republican rival," an Israeli source said. "If Obama is reelected, Netanyahu will pay a heavy price. Obama's advisers have been using the word 'revenge' when talking about Netanyahu in the post-election period."
US administration officials talking to AP expressed outrage over the fact that Israel is openly sharing its disagreements with the US.