Washington (CNN) - U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly emphasized the strength and durability of ties between their two countries Tuesday - part of an effort to dispel the notion that relations between the United States and Israel have frayed in recent months.
They said they had discussed new steps that can be taken to revitalize a Middle East peace process that many observers believe has recently stalled.
The two leaders also took aim at Iran, highlighting common efforts to prevent that country from acquiring a nuclear arsenal.
The meeting - their fifth since Netanyahu took office last spring - took place at the White House against a backdrop of speculation that the two leaders are increasingly at odds on a range of key issues.
The "bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable," Obama told reporters in the Oval Office. The United States remains "unwavering in our commitment to Israel's security."
Reports of damaged relations between Israel and the United States "aren't just premature, they're just flat wrong," Netanyahu insisted.
The two leaders made a point of publicly shaking hands twice, and Netanyahu thanked Obama for offering support in both private talks and public comments.
Obama, however, also stressed the importance of moving toward direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Presently, Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas aren't talking directly. They are communicating only through U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who serves as a go-between for negotiations.
Moving toward direct talks was a topic when Obama met with Abbas on June 9.
"We agreed that, should a progress be achieved, then we would move on to direct talks," Abbas said after that meeting.
Netanyahu said Tuesday that he is ready for direct talks - a step he has repeatedly endorsed in the past.
Abbas has refused to meet with Netanyahu until Israel promises to stop building settlements. Israel's settlement policy has become point of friction between Israel and the United States.
Relations between Obama and Netanyahu reached a low point in March, when Israel announced plans during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden to construct more than 1,000 new houses in East Jerusalem. The announcement outraged the Obama administration and led to the Palestinians' withdrawing from agreed-upon indirect negotiations with Israel.
In a visit later that month to the United States, Netanyahu was presented with a set of concessions that the White House wanted to see Israel make in an effort to restart the negotiations.
Neither government detailed what the exact nature of the concessions were, but sources on both sides said a halt in East Jerusalem construction was among the demands from the Obama administration.
Also on the agenda: Israel's controversial embargo blocking the flow of goods into Gaza, which turned deadly in May when Israeli forces stormed a vessel that was part of a Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla. At least nine people were killed.
Obama on Tuesday commended Israel for easing limits on goods going to Gaza, saying there had been "real progress on the ground" that was happening "more quickly and more effectively than many people anticipated."
The president said the United States wants to "ensure the people of Gaza are able to prosper economically while Israel is able to maintain its legitimate security needs in not allowing missiles and weapons to get to Hamas."
Aside from Israeli-Palestinian relations, many Israelis worry about Iran's intentions with its nuclear program. Netanyahu had been expected to urge Obama to keep the pressure on Tehran.
Netanyahu said Tuesday that recent sanctions adopted by United Nations are helping to delegitimize Iran's nuclear program. The sanctions "have teeth" and "bite," he asserted.
– CNN's Fred Pleitgen, Dan Lothian and Jamie Crawford contributed to this report.
Was Helen Thomas invited to this press conference?
No the serious issue is what are we going to do about Iran. Iran is a great country but it's current leaders are a danger to their own country as well as to Iraq, Isreal and the United States.
Natenyahu is a right wing CONVICTED criminal that should be shot for war crimes.
thats a lie.... isreal has become a bully ,,,, it s there way or no way,,,
A red carpet at The White House is an inappropriate greeting for a carpet salesman from Cheltenham PA who carpet-bombed Gaza. I'm so tired of the belligerent and intransigent Israelis who are perfectly capable of fending for themselves and do not seek peace but eternal warfare. Let them do it without our dollars.
Obama does not like Israel . End of story. Attribute it to what ever you want. That is a fact. There is too much anecdotal and real evidence.
What DOESN'T Israel do to undermine US security interests??? Nutty Yahoo has no intention of doing anything. He's paying lip service now but will go back and be the usual war monger in front of his war monger coalition members
When the Islamists take risks there is peace. When Israel takes risks it is bloodied. Mr. Obama is a direct threat to the survival of Israel. We must find a way to neuter this clown before we oust him for good in 2012.
all of the death, and fighting, and all are praying to a God, something don't add up
LOL, 22 centuries of WAR! Everyone wants peace but no one wants to let the other side live in peace. Governments based on religion never brings peace only oppression of those who are not part of the Government's religion.
maybe they'll be willing to "risk" letting supplies, and food into Palestine. I mean letting them have potato chips is "risky", but probably will not undermine the security of Isreal.
Actions speak louder than words. If Israel is willing to take "risks for peace" then let's see them "risk" letting the Palestinian people rebuild their city, feed and educate their children, live free of occupation and settlement activity, and have their own recognized nation-hood.
Hopefully he will have a crazy group support him - the "Palestinains!" The Israelis have tried over the course of the 60+ years that the modern state has been in existance various thing to come to peace with the Arabs around them. Maybe Golda Meir was correct when she stated that there would be peace when the Arabs love their children more than they hate the Jews. I don't see that this has happened yet with all the Arabs. There are still too many Arab and Muslim groups that celebrate death (worship it really) and laud the murder bombers. When that stops and is considered haram (forbbiden), then we will have a much better chance at peace.
The United States will never ask Israel to "take any steps that would undermine (its) security interest", however the Obama adminstration continues to work with Hamas, Iran, Syria, and Hezzbolah and isolate and demonize Israel in the international community.
Obama's white house is clearly anti-semetic.
I sure hope so. I want people to know that I have cousins living in Israel that want peace too. It is time to stop the blockade in Gaza. It is time to stop shelling parts of Israel. It is time for the people of both countries to stand up. They all are just like us. They want to provide for their families.
I just wish the neo cons over here would be quiet and let peace come in.
I support this President and what I hope will be a good dialog for both countries.
The relationship between Israel and the US has improved over the last year Obama says. REALLY?????????????....................
If you can not see Obama hates Isreal you would have to be blind.
The President is wrong about saying the relationship with Israel has improved over the last year. It has not and won't improve unless there are direct talks. I would like to know what "risks" Netanyahu is willing to take as well as the "risks" that Abbas is willing to take. I doubt much will come from it. Although I support Israel for many reasons, I support a two-state solution whereby Palestinians should have the right of self-determination at least in the West Bank for sure and also Gaza – if Hamas can come to the table in peace. That won't happen. There is a growing tide of anti-Israel sentiment especially from the Left and far Right. (Actually if you know your history it has been like this for a long time...Stalin and Hitler were examples of this).
what do you call a terrorist that won? The Isreali Prime Minister :)
President Obama and the US need to hold Israel and Netanyahu's feet to the fire with regard to Gaza and the Palestinian conflict. Israel needs the US! The US does not need Israel! Tell them to stop settlement construction and to lower the restrictions on goods and materials going into Gaza. Tell them to make peace!
Natanyahu is just a yahoo!
Then Barry apologized and both went their seperate ways.....
One thing for sure, you can't fool God even some of the time...
Glad to hear the positive talk from DC....and pray PM and President Obama seeks the WORD before they act....
Wonder when Hamas begins risking for peace...