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Obama wants concrete steps from Israel, Palestinians

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Barack Obama said the United States wants to see concrete measures from Israel and the Palestinians.

"What we want to do is step back from the abyss," Obama told reporters at a news conference Tuesday with Jordanian King Abdullah II, who is visiting Washington. "As hard it is, as difficult as it may be, the prospect of peace still exists."

The president said the sides would have to make "hard choices" and take "concrete steps."

"My hope would be that over the next several months that you start seeing gestures of good faith on all sides," he said. "The parties in the region probably have a pretty good recognition of what intermediate steps can be taken to encourage confidence-building measures."

Obama said he would meet the new Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in the United States, although he did not say when. He suggested that such a meeting was delayed in part because of the newness of Netanyahu’s coalition.

"It was a very complicated process for" the Israeli government "to put a coalition together, they are going to have to formulate and solidify position," he said before adding immediately, "We can’t talk forever."

Obama also addressed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech Monday in Geneva describing Israel as a "racist" state, calling it "appalling" and "harmful." The president said, however, that his outreach to Iran was on track.

"We’re under no illusions," he said. "Iran is a very complicated country with a lot of different power centers. The Supreme Leader Khameini is the person who exercises the most control over the policies of the Islamic Republic."

Obama said he would "continue to pursue the possibility of improved relations and a resolution of some of the issues," citing specifically nuclear issues.

Later, Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs said the White House would soon finalize dates for separate visits by Netanyahu; Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president; and Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president.

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