WASHINGTON — President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday during a carefully choreographed White House makeup meeting that they'd press for a quick resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
At a picture-taking session with Netanyahu, Obama said he hoped that direct Middle East talks could begin "well before" Israel's moratorium on new West Bank settlements expires in September. He called on Israelis and Palestinians to take confidence-building steps to prepare the ground, but he gave few specifics.
"The president and I discussed concrete steps that could be done now — in the coming days, in the coming weeks — to move the peace process further along in a very robust way," Netanyahu said.
Obama made Middle East peace a priority upon taking office, but he has struggled to show progress. The tone at Tuesday's meeting suggested that he has discarded his tactic of public confrontation with Israel, after it backfired.
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The meeting was orchestrated down to the smallest detail to project an image of an untroubled U.S.-Israeli alliance, an image with potential political benefits for the president and other Democrats in November's midterm elections.
Obama even signaled, albeit in diplomatic code, that his drive for nuclear nonproliferation doesn't extend to Israel's unacknowledged nuclear arsenal. "We strongly believe that, given its size, its history, the region that it's in and the threats that are leveled... against it, that Israel has unique security requirements," he said.
Tuesday's one-on-one session lasted an hour and 19 minutes and was followed by a working luncheon attended by the administration's top brass, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Adviser James Jones, special adviser Dennis Ross and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.
Still, it's far from certain that the president's warmer approach to Israel will result in progress toward Middle East peace.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is reluctant to move from indirect talks, mediated by special U.S. envoy George Mitchell, to the direct negotiations called for Tuesday.
The Palestinians first want assurances that the negotiations will lead to an independent state.