Obama Riffs on Netanyahu, Iran, NSA, Ukraine (Updated)
Updated 2:04 p.m. | President Barack Obama zinged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Monday.
The press corps chuckled when Obama suggested Merkel wouldn’t have been a part of trying to get a meeting two weeks before her election, a nod to the timing of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress later this year.
“As much as I love Angela, if she was two weeks away from an election, she probably would not have received an invitation to the White House, and I suspect she wouldn’t have asked for one,” Obama said, getting a smile out of Merkel.
“The U.S.-Israeli relationship is not about a particular party,” Obama said.
It “has to do with that unbreakable bond that we feel and — and our commitment to Israel’s security and the shared values that we have.”
Obama said he wants to “make sure that it doesn’t get clouded with what could be perceived as partisan politics, whether that’s accurate or not.”
In addition to implying Netanyahu might be seeking political advantage by agreeing to Speaker John A. Boehner’s invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress, he took issue with Netanyahu’s policy views, particularly over whether to impose new sanctions now on Iran.
“It does not make sense to sour the negotiations a month or two before they are about to be complete,” Obama said. “What’s the rush? Unless your view is it’s not possible to get a deal with Iran. … That I cannot agree with,” he said.
The president said that’s because if diplomacy fails, “those options are narrow and they are not attractive.”
Obama and Merkel also spoke about their differences on Ukraine — where Obama said he’s considering arming the Ukraine government, a stance Merkel opposes, and on the National Security Agency controversy. Merkel, whose phone was famously spied on, said per a translation that she wants to keep getting the information provided by America, although she still has some differences with the Americans.
Obama appealed to the German people.
“Occasionally, I would like the German people to give us the benefit of the doubt, given our history, as opposed to assuming the worst, assuming we have been consistently your strong partners and that we share a common set of values,” he said.
As for Ukraine, Obama’s message was one of portraying unity, and ratcheting up the cost on Russian President Vladimir Putin to persuade him to find a diplomatic solution.
“We can’t simply try to talk them out of it,” Obama said.
“We have to show them that the world is unified in — in imposing a cost for this aggression. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
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