Rift Over New Housing Clouds Netanyahu's Visit Canceled meetings and changed venues are revealing the strain during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trip to Washington. He has remained firm on Israel's decision to build 1,600 new Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem, despite the serious diplomatic row that has ensued.
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Rift Over New Housing Clouds Netanyahu's Visit

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Rift Over New Housing Clouds Netanyahu's Visit

Rift Over New Housing Clouds Netanyahu's Visit

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

No microphones, no cameras, no telling what was said. President Obama met privately today with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, their first meeting since a serious diplomatic row erupted earlier this month.

The dispute began with Israel's decision to build more Jewish housing in East Jerusalem. And much as the issue overshadowed Vice President Biden's visit to Israel, it now overshadows Netanyahu's visit to Washington.

As NPR's Jackie Northam reports, the prime minister is standing firm.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Prime Minister Netanyahu knows Washington and its many movers and shakers. He spent the better part of the last two days in meetings with senior administration officials and leaders of the Senate and House. In addition to the Middle East peace process, Netanyahu has stressed the U.S. and Israel have a common interest in stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Prime Minister BENJAMIN NETANYAHU (Israel): If this terror tyranny acquires atomic bombs, they could easily give them to terrorist proxies. They could also contemplate using these weapons themselves. And this is something of intolerable danger to all of us.

NORTHAM: While he's held several high-profile meetings here, there were signs of strains as Netanyahu moved through Washington. Photo ops were canceled, venues changed, meetings became private. All this has led to speculation that the very public diplomatic rift over Israel's housing policies has not yet healed.

The Obama administration is pressing Israel to curb the construction of Jewish housing in East Jerusalem, saying it's undermining efforts to restart stalled peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. But in the speech Monday to the pro-Israeli lobby group AIPAC, Netanyahu said Israel had the right to build in Jerusalem, that the city is not a settlement, it's Israel's capital, and that building there does not compromise any peace deal.

Striking that defiant note may go over well with pro-Israel activists, but administration officials say they will not hesitate to criticize Netanyahu when they feel his policies are jeopardizing the peace process.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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