WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that his sit-down on Monday with US President Barack Obama was “one of the best meetings I’ve had with him.”
Speaking to reporters moments after his two-and-half hour powwow with Obama, Netanyahu said the discussion focused mainly on Israel’s security needs and American military aid to Israel, and steps on the ground Jerusalem intends to take to stabilize relations with the Palestinians. Netanyahu is to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday to discuss such steps.
The president did not ask Netanyahu to freeze settlements, Netanyahu said. His controversial appointment of Ran Baratz as his new communications director did not come up during the meeting, the prime minister added, reiterating that he will “deal with the matter” upon his return to Israel.
“What you saw from the outside is also what transpired on the inside. It was one of the best meetings I’ve had with Obama,” Netanyahu said.
“The conversation was in very good spirits and very honest; no one hid the disagreements between us. Rather, we focused on how to go forward,” he added.
The two leaders discussed ways to ensure Iran doesn’t violate the agreement and possible means to counter the regime’s aggressive behavior, the prime minister said.
The description ran counter to what many analysts expected to be a tense meeting after a year in which ties between the two have become frayed over the Iranian nuclear issue and settlement building.
But Netanyahu said that, as opposed to past meetings, this one was not confrontational.
“I did not feel any tension,” he added. “Both the tone and the substance of the meeting were in a spirit of being productive — let’s see what we can do, not let’s see how we can argue.”
The meeting did not have the feeling of a “debating society,” as it had in the past, he said. “It simply wasn’t like this. And it’s not as if there haven’t been any meetings like that. There have been. But this wasn’t one of them.”
The prime minister refused, however, to address reporters’ questions about possible resolutions on the peace process in the United Nations Security Council and whether he and President Obama discussed the administration’s position of any such resolution.
Most of the meeting, Netanyahu told reporters, focused on preparations for the renewal of the US-Israel Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, which regulates American military assistance to Israel.
Israel currently receives about $3 billion in military aid per year, but reportedly seeks about $5 billion.
“We didn’t focus on the exact sum, but I presented our needs,” Netanyahu said, adding that the president signaled understanding and willingness to increase the administration’s aid. The last Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2007, but “today’s Middle East cannot be compared to what it was then,” the prime minister said, explaining that the currently volatile situation in the region has created new challenges for Israel.
A US delegation led by senior White House official Yael Lempert will visit Jerusalem in early December to start the negotiations about the new memorandum, said National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen. The current MOU lapses in two years’ time, but negotiations for the upcoming one will be concluded way ahead of 2017, Netanyahu said.
Obama and Netanyahu also talked at length about the current situation in Syria. The prime minister indicated that Israel will oppose any agreement that would allow Iran or its proxies to launch missiles at Israel. He also reiterated his “red lines” vis-à-vis Syria, saying that he will not allow the smuggling of advanced weapons systems from Syria to Lebanon.