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(photo credit: AP [file])
The United States pushed back on Friday against Iranian efforts to cause a schism in US-Israel relations and stressed its commitment to continue pressing toward peace talks despite recent difficulties.
"Israel is a very, very close friend of the US, and we don't think we have to choose between Israel or any other country. We want to have productive, meaningful relations with all countries in the region," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in response to a question about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's call for such a reorientation last week.
Also on Friday, the assistant secretary of state for public affairs, P.J. Crowley, emphasized that the US is continuing to push for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to resume as soon as possible, despite calls from some quarters for Washington to step back since its program of relaunching talks had yet to bear fruit.
Crowley acknowledged that the US had "hit a bumpy road recently" in that effort, and the Obama administration was in the process of "assessing where we are" and potentially coming up with "some news ideas of how to close the gap that does exist."
But he rejected the idea of shifting away from
"We haven't given up our objective, which is to get the parties back into negotiations as soon as possible, and to begin the earnest work of working on the very specific, complex and substantive details to arrive at a just resolution, a final agreement, and formation of a Palestinian state," Crowley said at a briefing for foreign journalists.
He also pointed to it being a delicate moment for
the Palestinian Authority but didn't indicate that
would mean a shift in policy.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas has lost much of his popular support in recent weeks, in part because he succumbed to US pressure to delay consideration of the UN's Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza last winter, though he ultimately reversed himself.
Abbas has threatened not to run again in elections that he had slated for January unless the US pushed Israel for a total settlement freeze, though a Palestinian election body recently recommended against holding elections then since Hamas has refused to participate.
Asked about the prospects for elections, Crowley said, "I'll leave it to President Abbas to decide, based on that recommendation, whether an election can be held or whether it needs to be postponed."
The threat not to run again - which wouldn't take effect if elections are not held - has been seen as an Abbas gambit to regain momentum and legitimacy, after the Arab and Palestinian anger at his Goldstone stance was intensified by the US seeming to withdraw earlier demands it had made of Israel for a total settlement freeze.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently for making "unprecedented" steps to restrain settlement activity under a partial freeze worked out between the two countries. The comments boosted Netanyahu but unleashed fury in the Arab world.
Israeli officials credit sensitivity in that climate to the decision not to hold a public photo opportunity or press conference following Netanyahu's meeting with US President Barack Obama on Monday. An official photograph was belatedly released on Friday, but it showed the two men sitting at a table enjoying a meal rather than shaking hands or standing side-by-side smiling, as is traditional.
Crowley said on Friday he had no further developments to announce, but did say that "we're not going to impose a US solution on the parties" despite increasing call from some sectors of the Arab world to do so.
He added, however, that "there may come a point in the future where we will offer our ideas on the best way forward."