WASHINGTON (JTA) – Israel and the United States have agreed to "lower the volume" over disagreements, Ehud Barak said.
The Israeli defense minister spoke to Israeli journalists on Wednesday after meetings with top Obama administration officials, including the president.
"It’s very important to have a direct conversation behind closed doors and not to do it through the media," Barak said.
Meanwhile, Israeli sources said White House officials were especially concerned about leaks and statements from the Netanyahu government.
On emerging disagreements over freezing Israeli settlements, Barak said such differences between the United States and Israel are inevitable as the Obama administration charts its new course. This is partly because the Obama administration is more advanced than the Netanyahu government in shaping its Middle East policies, but also because Obama must take into account not only Israel’s demands but those of the Arabs, Europe and Russia.
In recent weeks top Obama administration officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, have emphatically insisted on a settlement freeze in the West Bank, while Netanyahu and other officials have just as emphatically rejected it.
In his briefing with reporters, Barak would not address U.S. demands that the Netanyahu government commit to Palestinian statehood other than to say the government is still formulating its policies. Barak’s Labor Party does have such a commitment, but others in Netanyahu’s coalition adamantly reject statehood.
Turning to Iran, Barak said Israel wants the United States to reassess its outreach policy well before December. In what was considered a concession to Israeli anxieties that the Islamic Republic is closer than ever to a nuclear weapon, Obama said last month when meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would reassess the policy by that month.
Barak, however, said December was too late and that Israel wanted outreach fast-tracked into punishing sanctions after "no more than a few months." Pressed, he mentioned September as a possible deadline.
Barak emphasized, however, that there was broad Israeli-U.S. agreement over the need to contain Iran’s nuclear threat.