Kerry Touts U.S.-Israel Bond After Israeli Angst Over Iran Deal

Secretary of State Kerry had separate meetings with Israeli and Palestinians leaders Thursday. Much of his discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu focused on Iran and its nuclear program. But there was also discussion of some U.S. proposals on the security aspect of an eventual peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Some in the Israeli government are highly critical of those proposals.

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In Israel, Secretary of State John Kerry is making another push for peace, holding separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. After America's nuclear deal with Iran, Secretary Kerry and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exchanged sharp words. Netanyahu called the agreement a historic mistake.

But as NPR's Emily Harris reports, today they played down their differences.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Secretary Kerry felt the need to say this in his public remarks today.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: The bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable. And while occasionally we might have a difference of a tactical measure, we do not have a difference about the fundamental strategy that we both seek with respect to the security of Israel and the long-term peace of this region.

HARRIS: More specifically, he said Israel's security is at the top of the U.S. agenda in further negotiations with Iran.

KERRY: And the United States will do everything in our power to make certain that Iran's nuclear program - a program of weaponization possibilities - is terminated.

HARRIS: Prime Minister Netanyahu hopes so. He repeated Israel's position that a final agreement with Iran must end Iran's nuclear weapons capability. Israelis have broadly supported Netanyahu's strong stance against Iran. But he has also come under significant domestic criticism. Yesterday a former director of Israel's internal security agency said Netanyahu's focus on Iran distracts from a bigger potential threat: The ongoing conflict with Palestinians.

Yuval Diskin spoke at a conference in Tel Aviv.

YUVAL DISKIN: (Through translator) I am here because I believe with all of my heart, that the implications of not solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict present a greater existential threat to Israel than the Iranian nuclear project.

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HARRIS: Netanyahu today said Israeli is ready for peace with Palestinians, but reiterated that Israel's security cannot be compromised. One Israeli concern is the border between what is now the Israeli-Occupied West Bank and Jordan. Israel wants to keep troops there, even if it becomes a border between Jordan and a new Palestinian State. Palestinian officials have said they cannot accept that.

Today, U.S. officials presented Netanyahu with specific ideas for security in that area in the context of a potential peace deal. No details were shared publicly, but Israel's Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon was quick to criticize the U.S. suggestions.

DANNY DANON: (Through translator) We are aware of the American need to achieve international agreements, but it cannot be at the expense of the State of Israel.

HARRIS: Secretary Kerry said today he believes Israel and the Palestinians are making some progress in difficult negotiations. But since Kerry was last here, two Palestinian negotiators tendered their resignations - accusing Israel of undermining talks. Today, Israel's Netanyahu said finger pointing doesn't help.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: What we need is not grandstanding but understanding and agreements. And that requires hard and serious work. I'm fully committed and Israel is fully committed to such an effort. And I hope the Palestinians are committed to this goal as well.

HARRIS: Palestinian Authority President Abbas has made it clear that his side is committed to staying in the talks for the agreed up on nine months.

Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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