Obama to host Netanyahu at White House next week

US president, Israeli PM to meet October 1 to discuss Iran nuke talks, Islamic State, aftermath of 50-day conflict in Gaza

US President Barack Obama (right) shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2014. (AFP/Saul Loeb)
US President Barack Obama (right) shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2014. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama will welcome Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House on October 1, a US official said in a statement Monday.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden announced the meeting, which is likely to address US-Israeli divisions on negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, the threat posed by the Islamic State terror group, and the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge, among other issues.

The prime minister is set to speak at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sunday, and will make his way to Washington for the Wednesday meeting. Netanyahu and Obama last met in early March this year, in the midst of a last-ditch effort by the Obama administration to keep the then-ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks viable.

In that meeting, Obama attempted to reassure Netanyahu of his “absolute commitment” to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

The visit was, however, overshadowed by tensions between the two leaders. An interview with Obama seen as containing a veiled threat to Netanyahu was published on the eve of Netanyahu’s arrival. During their three-hour meeting, Obama pushed the prime minister to make the “tough decisions” necessary to revive the slumping attempt at reaching a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Netanyahu, for his part, told Obama that “the Israeli people expect me to stand strong against criticism and pressure” while arguing that “Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say that the Palestinians haven’t.”

Obama is also set to meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi next week.

Netanyahu in recent days criticized a reported tentative arrangement by which the West may consider easing sanctions on Iran in exchange for its help fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

He said that “respected commentators in the West” were counseling a softer approach to enlist Tehran in an alliance against the terrorists.

The prime minister’s comments followed reports earlier this week that Iranian officials had indicated that Iran would be willing to back US efforts to combat the Islamic State in return for easing the restrictions on its contested nuclear program.

On Monday, the US said no such arrangement is in the works.

The US has been working on building an international coalition to battle the terror group which has seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and driven thousands to flee.

On Friday, the State Department named 55 countries as partners in the international coalition against the Islamic State and as contributors in some form or another in the fight against the extremist group.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has also indicated there was a role for Iran in the fight, even as both Washington and Tehran have publicly ruled out direct cooperation.

Nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers, including the US, restarted late last week, with the sides hoping to come to a long-term agreement before the November 24 deadline.

Iran has refused US demands that it gut its uranium-enrichment program, but the two sides are now discussing a new proposal that would leave much of Tehran’s enriching machines in place but disconnected from feeds of uranium, diplomats told The Associated Press Saturday.

The talks have been stalled for months over Iran’s opposition to sharply reducing the size and output of centrifuges that can enrich uranium to levels needed for reactor fuel or weapons-grade material used in the core of nuclear warheads. Iran says its enrichment program is only for peaceful purposes, but Washington fears it could be used to make a bomb.

Israel fiercely opposed an interim deal which world powers struck with Tehran last November, paving the way for talks on a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s future nuclear activities.

AP and AFP contributed to this report

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