US President Barack Obama will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on November 9 — their first meeting after a deep row over the Iranian nuclear deal.
The fence-mending meeting, announced by the White House on Wednesday, comes as US-Israeli relations are at their lowest point in decades.
Obama and Netanyahu — after years of frosty personal relations — clashed over the agreement that would give Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
The Israeli leader publicly and stridently opposed a deal, championed strongly by Obama as the best way of preventing Tehran from getting a nuclear weapon.
The US administration indicated that the meeting could move beyond tensions caused by Netanyahu’s strident opposition to the deal and focus on getting Israel’s support for its implementation.
“Prime minister Netanyahu’s visit is a demonstration of the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
“The president looks forward to discussing with the prime minister regional security issues, including implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” said Earnest, using the Iran accord’s formal title.
Israel could be a help or hindrance to Obama in keeping the deal on track, ratcheting up domestic pressure on the White House should Iran stall or falter on implementation.
“You are not going to see a transformation in the relationship, but you are going to see an improvement, because there is no reason to fight,” said Aaron David Miller, a former advisor to Republican and Democratic presidents.
They will “try to change the channel from this incredibly dysfunctional soap opera-like relation to something much cooler and calmer,” Miller said.
Israel, he said, has an interest in being in the loop on Iran’s nuclear program, while Obama can neutralize a line of attack by Republican foes ahead of next year’s election.
– ‘Stunning, historic mistake’ –
Netanyahu had described the accord, an important piece of Obama’s foreign policy legacy, as a “stunning, historic mistake.”
The White House regarded Netanyahu’s appearance before a joint session of Congress in April — to call directly on US lawmakers to scupper the deal — as an affront.
Obama had pointedly refused to meet Netanyahu when he was in Washington to make the address.
The two men clashed again during Netanyahu’s re-election campaign, when he rejected a two-state solution for peace with the Palestinians — an issue sure to come up in the talks.
With the peace process in deep freeze, there are growing fears that tensions like those flaring at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound could spark a broader Palestinian uprising.
“The president also looks forward to discussing Israel’s relations with the Palestinians, the situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and the need for the genuine advancement of a two-state solution,” Earnest said.
Security ties between the United States and Israel will also be on the agenda.
The White House has floated the idea of a deeper security compact with Israel, but has said the offer has not yet been taken up.
It is likely to include the extension of a memorandum of understanding, the sale of high-tech fighter jets and perhaps precision-guided bunker buster bombs.
“The president has indicated on a number of occasions his desire to begin consultations with our Israeli allies about how to further deepen that cooperation,” Earnest said earlier this month.