Israeli-US rifts ‘should not be aired publicly,’ Liberman says

In first public appearance since regaining his post, foreign minister says he’ll work to calm tensions over Iran talks

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to Foreign Ministry staff on November 12, 2013 for the first time after being reappointed (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to Foreign Ministry staff on November 12, 2013 for the first time after being reappointed (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Israeli government needs to get over its public spat with the United States on Iran, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday, launching a surprising attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has openly criticized Washington’s approach in nuclear talks with Tehran in recent days.

“We need to understand that relations with US are foundations set in stone; without them we can’t maneuver in the contemporary world,” Liberman said. “All these differences of opinion, which are natural and have always existed, should simply not be aired as publicly as they were. I think a step to calm them is important, and we will already start dealing with this tomorrow.”

The minister was addressing Israel’s diplomatic corps in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem for the first time since retaking the helm on Monday. His remarks came as a surprise because in the past his uncompromising stances vis-a-vis the Palestinians and Iran have occasionally caused tension with Washington. The move seemed to be an attempt to present a friendlier, more moderate public face to the world, and Washington in particular.

Liberman’s remarks came close on the heels of a bitter back-and-forth between Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry over last weekend’s negotiations between world powers and Iran.

After rumors that a prospective deal with Iran was in the offing Friday, Netanyahu urged Kerry not to sign an agreement with Tehran. On Sunday Kerry shot back that the US was “not blind, and I don’t think we’re stupid.” The prime minister on Monday urged world powers to push for a “better” deal with Iran. Kerry batted away Netanyahu’s criticism, saying Netanyahu “needs to recognize that no agreement” with Iran had been reached and that his opposition was premature. “The time to oppose [a deal] is when you see what it is,” he said. “Not to oppose the effort to find out what is possible.” Jerusalem shot back by saying it would be too late, once a deal was done, to oppose it.

Liberman said that US-Israel relations remain “stable and good” and that nothing would change that. Differences of opinion between the allies are natural, he added, and have existed from before Israel’s creation.

“We need to deal with this in the most natural manner,” Liberman said.

The Yisrael Beytenu party leader resigned his foreign minister post in December 2012 pending resolution of a court case against him.

Last week, a three-judge panel at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court unanimously acquitted Liberman of fraud and breach of trust charges, clearing the way for him to return as foreign minister.

The Knesset on Monday approved his reappointment as Israel’s top diplomat with 62 for and 17 against, and he was sworn in at a Knesset ceremony.

The foreign minister held his first working meeting on Tuesday morning with US Ambassador Dan Shapiro.

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