19 May 2009

US, Israeli leaders in first White House talks

7:55 am on 19 May 2009

US President Barack Obama on Monday held crucial talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu which highlighted divisions on confronting Iran and the notion of a Palestinian state.

The leaders met at the White House for an intense first summit which stretched an hour over its allotted time of two hours.

Mr Obama pressed a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict but failed to win a public commitment from the Israeli leader on Palestinian statehood.

Mr Netanyahu reiterated that he supported self-government for the Palestinians but made no mention of a state.

The US president also urged Mr Netanyahu to freeze Jewish settlement building but sought to reassure Israelis wary about his overtures to Iran that he would not wait indefinitely for diplomatic progress toward curbing Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Mr Obama said Iran must show it is committed to progress in talks by the end of the year, while Mr Netanyahu graphically described his fears that a nuclear-armed Iran could pose a threat to his nation.

Barack Obama, who has pledged to put Middle East peacemaking high on the agenda, said both Israel and the Palestinians would have to meet their obligations under the 2003 US-sponsored Middle East roadmap.

The plan, widely ignored by both sides, calls on Israel to halt settlement expansion and for the Palestinians to rein in militants.