Obama: Israel won’t surprise me on Iran

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Obama said he is confident that Israel would not surprise him with an attack on Iran.

"I think the relationship between Israel and the U.S. is sufficiently strong that neither of us try to surprise each other, but we try to coordinate on issues of mutual concern," Obama said in an interview with Israel’s Channel Two that aired Thursday, two days after Obama’s Washington summit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

One of the top agenda items in that meeting was Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. Netanyahu praised Obama for shepherding new multilateral sanctions through the United Nations Security Council and for signing a bill that enhanced existing U.S. sanctions.

In the interview, Obama said Netanyahu could function as Richard Nixon did when the U.S. president reached out to China: a hard-line leader whose peacemaking would encompass his country’s skeptics.

"In the same way Nixon," the former U.S. president, "was able to go to China with strong anti-communist credentials, I think Netanyahu is well positioned to bring about peace," Obama said.

The Obama-Netanyahu meeting appeared to end months of tension between the two administrations sparked over disagreements about Israel’s settlement policy. Netanyahu has partially frozen settlement building; he will not say whether he plans to extend the freeze beyond a self-imposed September deadline.

Netanyahu extended an invitation to Obama to visit Israel, but Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said Wednesday that such a visit was not planned for 2010.

"It’s not on the books at this point," he said. "I don’t know if it changes or not."

A number of Jewish groups, on the left and right, have urged Obama to visit Israel in order to overcome tensions with the Netanyahu government.

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