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Page last updated at 21:59 GMT, Monday, 18 May 2009 22:59 UK

The gap between the US and Israel

By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Washington

The talks between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama went one hour beyond the scheduled time, leading to much hand-wringing in Middle East circles in Washington.

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu
There were no big smiles or handshakes for the cameras

The meeting was described by Mr Obama as productive, but there were no big smiles or handshakes for the cameras and overall, the two leaders looked quite stern.

The differences in opinion that were there before the meeting were clearly still present after the long discussions.

The two leaders emphasised very different issues during the comments they made to the cameras.

Tackling Iran

Mr Obama reiterated his commitment to a two-state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but Mr Netanyahu refrained - as he has done since he took office - from uttering the words "Palestinian state".

He said he was ready to resume peace talks but stressed the need for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

The Israeli prime minister emphasised repeatedly that his top priority was to deal with the threat Iran poses because of its nuclear programme and insisted that progress on the peace track went hand in hand with tackling Iran.

The American president, meanwhile, said it was probably the other way around - progress in the talks with the Palestinians would strengthen the hand of the international community in dealing with Iran.

The right-wing Israeli prime minister did not publicly react to Mr Obama's call for an end to all settlement activity - the strongest such comment by a US official in years.

The US president also set himself apart from past American presidents to some extent by talking not only about Israel's security needs but also making reasonably long comments about the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza strip and the desperation this leads to.

President Obama tried to put the onus on Mr Netanyahu, or perhaps even corner him with a compliment, by saying that the Israeli leader had an opportunity forge a historic peace during his tenure, adding he was confident Mr Netanyahu would seize the moment.

So while there was no public spat, the gap remains and may put a real dent in Mr Obama's plans for grand peacemaking in the Middle East.



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