Obama drops in on Barak-Jones meeting

US president stresses dedication to achieving a two-state solution.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
April 27, 2010 09:29
3 minute read.
Obama

Obama Huh? 311. (photo credit: AP)

WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama dropped by a meeting US National Security Adviser Jim Jones held with Defense Minister Ehud Barak Monday, stressing the strength of the US-Israel relationship and his dedication to achieving a two-state solution.

“The president reaffirmed our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and our determination to achieve comprehensive peace in the Middle East,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said following the meeting. He added that the two had also discussed “how to deal with the threats that both the US and Israel face and how to move forward toward comprehensive peace.”

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Iran’s nuclear program and the Middle East peace process are expected to dominate Barak’s visit to the US this week, though recent arms shipments by Syria, intelligence cooperation and military procurement are also on the agenda.

After his White House visit, Barak was due to meet with CIA Director Leon Panetta later Monday. After that, he was scheduled to hold talks with Fred Hof, deputy to US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, following on meetings Barak had with Mitchell himself in Israel during the latter’s weekend visit.

On Tuesday, Barak is slated to hold talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, following a dinner Monday night at Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s home with US dignitaries including Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew. Barak heads to New York Wednesday for meetings with Jewish leaders and returns to Washington on Thursday to address the American Jewish Committee’s annual conference, at which Clinton will also be appearing.

Barak’s visit comes as the US is urging Israelis and Palestinians to begin long-awaited proximity talks that Mitchell is in the process of hammering out. It also comes amid frays in the US-Israel relationship, with Obama’s affirmation of the US commitment to Israel Monday just the latest in a series of such declarations by top US officials, including Jones, to try to smooth over the recent tensions.

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James Jones sorry for 'Jewish merchant' joke

At the 25th anniversary celebration of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy held last Wednesday, Jones spoke of both the US backing of Israel and the need to get the peace process moving.

“Everyone must know that there is no space – no space – between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable. It is as strong as ever,” he said.

He also stressed, “It is time to begin those negotiations and to put an end to excuses. It is time for all leaders in the region – Israeli, Palestinian and Arab – to support efforts for peace.”

He began his remarks, however, with a joke that offended some members of the largely Jewish audience, though it was greeted with laughter. On Monday his office put out a statement expressing his regret for any offense he caused.

The joke described a lost and thirsty member of the Taliban who, after several days of wandering, comes across a store owned by a Jewish merchant. When the Taliban fighter asks him for water, the merchant tells him he has only neckties and offers to sell him one at a good price. Seeing the livid man is not satisfied with the response, he tells him of a restaurant just a couple of miles away. The Taliban fighter leaves only to return in an hour, reporting that, “Your brother tells me a I need a tie to get into the restaurant.”

“I wish that I had not made this off-the-cuff joke at the top of my remarks, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by it,” Jones said in Monday’s statement. “It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: that the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct.”


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