JERUSALEM — Israel and the United States are working to advance “common interests,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
He was speaking of this week’s “important” visits to Israel by U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, Middle East special envoy George Mitchell and national security adviser Gen. James Jones.
Netanyahu said the visits are being held as part of a tight network of links between Israel and the United States “that has existed in the past and will to continue to exist in the present.
“Our common interests encompass all the main areas of bilateral co-operation,” he said. “I believe that such an intensive continuity in contacts with the U.S. reflects our common denominator in the search for security stability, economic development, diplomatic progress and other strategic issues. This network of relations is important and steadfast.”
Netanyahu downplayed differences between Israel and the United States on issues such as a freeze in settlement construction.
“Naturally, even within the fabric of friendly bilateral relations between two allies, there will not be full agreement on every point,” the Israeli leader said. “On various issues, we are trying to reach the same understanding so that together we may advance our common goals – peace, security and prosperity for the entire Middle East.”
U.S. special envoy Mitchell called differences between Israel and the United States “discussions among friends” and “not disputes among adversaries.”
Mitchell met Sunday evening in Tel Aviv with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Olmert as part of a series of meetings scheduled this week in the region.
“The American commitment to Israel’s security is unshakable and will not change,” Mitchell reportedly told Barak.
Barak told Mitchell that Israel is “willing to do all it takes to help” achieve peace in the region “while maintaining our vital interests. We understand the partners’ needs, and we undoubtedly could use Mitchell’s experience and wisdom in order to try and achieve this.”
Mitchell met Sunday morning in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad, and he called on Syria to help bring about peace in the Middle East.
“If we are to succeed, we will need Arabs and Israelis alike to work with us to bring about comprehensive peace,” Mitchell told reporters following his meeting with Assad, Ha’aretz reported. “We will welcome the full co-operation of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic in this historic endeavour.”
Mitchell said that restarting talks between Israel and Syria in the near future is one of the goals of President Barack Obama’s administration. Turkey has said it is ready to resume mediation of those talks.
Syria continues to be under U.S. sanctions over its support for Hamas, but the United States under Obama recently sent an ambassador to the country for the first time in more than four years.
Mitchell was scheduled to meet Monday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the following day with Netanyahu.