Obama phones Netanyahu over ‘regional security issues’

Obama phones Netanyahu over ‘regional security issues’

Call comes days after airstrikes on weapons transfers in Syria and amid renewed peace push

US President Barack Obama speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January 2012. (photo credit: Peter Souza/White House/File)
US President Barack Obama speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January 2012. (photo credit: Peter Souza/White House/File)

US President Barack Obama spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone Wednesday to discuss regional security issues and Middle East peace, the White House said.

A brief statement said the two leaders agreed to continue their “close coordination.”

The call came amid a renewed peace push by the Americans and days after Israel reportedly carried out a number of airstrikes on weapons transfers within Syria, a move US officials said Washington backed.

The Obama administration has said it is considering providing weapons to vetted units in the armed Syrian opposition, among other military options, following last week’s revelation of a US intelligence assessment that suggested chemical weapons use by the Assad regime. The US also is looking for ways to halt the violence that has killed more than 70,000 people.

But the US maintains deep reservations about providing direct military assistance, given the growing presence of al-Qaeda-linked and other extremists in the rebel ranks.

On Wednesday, White House spokesperson Jay Carney said Washington viewed Assad’s future as “post-Assad,” a day after Secretary of State John Kerry said the US and Russia would convene a conference soon to seek peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition.

The Obama administration also announced $100 million in new humanitarian aid Wednesday to the opposition. Officials said the money is for humanitarian purposes only and not linked to any decision on arming Syrian rebels.

Earlier in the day Justice Minister Tzipi Livni met with Kerry in Italy to discuss efforts to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiation table.

Kerry announced that he would travel to the region in two weeks to push peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Speaking to reporters alongside Livni in Rome, Kerry said he’d depart on his fourth trip to the Jewish state as America’s top diplomat around May 21 or 22. He will meet with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“We are working through threshold questions,” Kerry said, ahead of his private talks with Livni in Rome. “We’re doing it with a seriousness of purpose that I think … has not been present in a while. And we all believe we’re working with a short time span.”

Kerry said officials must have “some sense of direction as fast as we can.”

Before arriving Wednesday in the Italian capital, Kerry spoke by telephone with Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani. who led an Arab delegation to Washington last week to try to aid the peace effort.

Kerry and Livni praised the Arab League delegation’s decision last week to accept shifts in Israel’s border as part of a long-standing offer of universal recognition for Israel in the Arab world — if Israel withdraws from territory it conquered in the 1967 Mideast war.

Kerry said the Arabs “want to keep the process going” and have asked for more meetings.

“We will have those ongoing meetings, but with a purpose,” he said. “We’re not going to have meetings for the sake of a meeting.”

Livni said peace was in the interests of Israel and the Palestinians. She praised Kerry for “recreating hope” after years of stagnancy.

“Some of us lost hope and this is something we need, not just as a vague idea, but something which is concrete,” she told reporters.

Neither Kerry nor Livni addressed reports that Israel has put a hold on new construction of settlements in lands the Palestinians hope to include in their state.

American officials would see such a freeze as a positive step, but they don’t want to hype any small steps in light of the Middle East peace process’ long history of false starts and collapses.

Obama and Netanyahu met earlier this year in Israel for talks aimed at laying the groundwork for a new Mideast peace process.

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