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Obama: U.S. must be ‘honest’ with Israel

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama said in an interview that it is important for the United States to be more "honest" with Israel than in the past, and reiterated his call for a settlement freeze.

"Part of being a good friend is being honest," Obama said in an interview Monday with National Public Radio. "And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory in the region, is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests."

Obama also restated that "the United States has a special relationship with Israel," alluding to the "huge cross-cultural ties" and shared values between the two countries. The president added that with the threats directed at the Jewish state, "you can understand" why the United States "would feel it was important to back this stalwart ally."

Obama said he did not believe that "we have to change strong U.S. support for Israel" in order to improve relations with the Muslim world but "do have to retain a constant belief in the possibilities of negotiations that will lead to peace." Those negotiations require each side to meet its "obligations," he said, adding "I’ve said very clearly to the Israelis both privately and publicly that a freeze on settlements, including natural growth, is part of those obligations."

But in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of that demand, Obama said that "it’s still early in the process."

"I think we’re going to have a series of conversations," he said.

In a Tuesday interview with the BBC, Obama again emphasized that "it’s still early in the conversation," adding that "diplomacy is always a matter of a long, hard slog. It’s never a matter of quick results."

Obama added that "we have not seen a set of potential gestures from other Arab states, or from the Palestinians, that might deal with some of the Israeli concerns."

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