Politics

US irate with Israeli defense minister comments

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration on Wednesday vented its anger at the Israeli defense minister's public criticism of the U.S. and his personal insults of Secretary of State John Kerry.

In a new sign of tension between top officials of the two allies as Washington tries to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program, Kerry called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protest recent remarks by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon.

Yaalon this week accused the Obama administration of being weak on Iran and questioned its commitment to Israel's security. Previously, Yaalon has criticized Kerry for being unrealistic and naive in trying to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Yaalon's remarks were "not constructive" and "inconsistent" with the close relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Psaki repeated Obama and Kerry's oft-stated position that the U.S. commitment to Israel's security is "unshakable," outlined several main elements of the longstanding U.S.-Israeli defense relationship. And she noted that Netanyahu himself has spoken of an "unprecedented level" of security cooperation between the countries.

"The comments of the defense minister are completely inconsistent with that," Psaki told reporters. "So, it is certainly confusing to us why Defense Minister Yaalon would continue his pattern of making comments that don't accurately represent the scope of our close partnership on a range of security issues and on the enduring partnership between the United States and Israel."

She would not say if Kerry had demanded an apology of Yaalon, declined to characterize Netanyahu's response to Kerry's protests and referred questions about that to the Israeli government. In Israel, an official in Yaalon's office said Netanyahu and Yaalon had "discussed the recent reports" and added that the minister "will clarify what was said in his talks with the Americans." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the diplomatic matter with the media by name.

In remarks quoted in Israeli reports on Tuesday, Yaalon said Israel cannot depend on the United States to lead any action against Iran's nuclear program and can only rely on itself. "We thought that the one who needs to lead the campaign against Iran is the U.S.," Yaalon was quoted by the daily Haaretz as saying during a lecture at Tel Aviv University on Monday.

He also disparaged American influence and power, noting the ongoing crisis over Ukraine and Russia's annexation of Crimea. Yaalon has made controversial comments about Washington in the past. In January, he was quoted as saying that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was "obsessive" and "messianic" over his Mideast peace efforts.

__ Associated Press writer Tia Goldenberg contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

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