Washington (CNN) - The White House chief of staff Tuesday reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Israel and said the dispute over settlements should not keep the Israelis and Palestinians from holding peace talks.
"No one should allow the issue of settlements to distract from the goal of a lasting peace between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world," Rahm Emanuel told participants at a conference of the Jewish Federations of North America.
He urged Israelis and Palestinians to hold peace negotiations soon to address key "final status" issues of security, borders, refugees and Jerusalem. But he added that that "unilateral actions should be avoided and cannot dictate the outcome," a pointed reference to continued settlement activity by Israel.
Emanuel filled in for President Barack Obama, who canceled his scheduled appearance before the group to attend the Fort Hood memorial service. He reiterated statements made by Obama stressing the "unbreakable" bond between the United States and Israel.
JERUSALEM (CNN) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's meeting on Friday with the top U.S. envoy to the Middle East was "useful and constructive," the Israeli leader's office said.
Talks between George Mitchell and Netanyahu focused on efforts to restart the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and the two men agreed to continue their discussions in the coming days, the minister's office said.
Mitchell will meet Saturday with two of Netanyahu's advisers, Yizhak Molcho and Mike Hertzog, it said.
He also plans to talk with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Saturday, the State Department said.
Mitchell returned to the region this week to advocate peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, but significant obstacles remain.
JERUSALEM (CNN) – The hopes for renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks dimmed Friday despite the fast-paced shuttle diplomacy efforts of top U.S. diplomat George Mitchell.
Mitchell, the U.S. envoy for the Middle East, capped off a week of diplomacy in the region with a second round of talks with both sides. He met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Mitchell has been working to broker a last-minute deal before the start of the the Jewish New Year, which begins at sundown on Friday, and the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday this weekend. The deal would allow a trilateral meeting among Netanyahu, Abbas and President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly next week in New York.
One of the sticking points has been the Israeli settlement freeze issue.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - U.S. President Barack Obama asserted Tuesday that there has been "movement in the right direction" from both Israelis and Palestinians in response to a renewed push for a comprehensive Middle East peace.
Obama made the claim during a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the White House. The two leaders said they discussed a broad range of issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the prospect of nuclear-armed Iran, the evolving situation in Iraq, and several new health and education initiatives.
They also discussed the prospects for domestic political reform in Egypt - a sensitive subject for the U.S. administration and Mubarak, who is frequently criticized by human rights activists and political opponents for suppressing internal dissent.
"If all sides are willing to move off of the rut" that has characterized negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in recent years, then "there's an extraordinary opportunity" for progress, Obama said.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Don't you just love a parade? Apparently the Obama administration does too, as evidenced by the steady stream of top U.S. officials visiting Israel this week. A bevy of heavy hitters are there, the likes of which haven't been seen since the Persian Gulf War.
Just as Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrapped up his meetings there, Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell arrived for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mitchell will be followed later this week by national security adviser James Jones and Dennis Ross, the White House's point man on Iran.
Aaron Miller, a former Mideast peace negotiator under President Clinton and author of "The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace," calls it "the big hug," a show of reassurance to Israel that the U.S.-Israeli relationship remains strong despite the current squabble over settlements.
MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) - The United States is "absolutely not" giving Israel a green light to attack Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama told CNN Tuesday.
"We have said directly to the Israelis that it is important to try and resolve this in an international setting in a way that does not create major conflict in the Middle East," Obama said, referring to Iran's nuclear ambitions.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden appeared to leave the door open on Sunday for Israel to attack Iran if it saw fit.
"Israel can determine for itself - it's a sovereign nation - what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else," Biden said on ABC's "This Week."
–CNN White House Correspondent Ed Henry contributed to this report.
The interview taped Friday at the White House was scheduled for broadcast on Sunday by DawnNews, which is Pakistan's first 24-hour English-language news channel. According to DawnNews, it was the first time a U.S. president granted a one-on-one interview to a Pakistani media outlet.
A report on the interview posted on the DawnNews Web site said Obama called the huge street demonstrations in Iran an indication that the announced election results there "obviously raised a lot of doubts."
"We respect Iran's sovereignty, but we also are witnessing peaceful demonstrations, people expressing themselves, and I stand for that universal principle that people should have a voice in their own lives and their own destiny," Obama said, according to Web site report. "And I hope that the international community recognizes that we need to stand behind peaceful protests and be opposed to violence or repression."
The White House issued the following statement from Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in response to Sunday's speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
"The President welcomes the important step forward in Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech. The President is committed to two states, a Jewish state of Israel and an independent Palestine, in the historic homeland of both peoples. He believes this solution can and must ensure both Israel's security and the fulfillment of the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations for a viable state, and he welcomes Prime Minister Netanyahu's endorsement of that goal. The President will continue working with all parties – Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Arab states, and our Quartet partners – to see that they fulfill their obligations and responsibilities necessary to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a comprehensive regional peace."
Editor's note: John King, CNN's chief national correspondent and "State of the Union" host, examines the news made in Sunday talk and offers up this Monday morning crib sheet on what to watch this week in politics. Please note that all quotes are from rush transcripts and are subject to change. If you'd like to receive a sneak peek of next week's news in your inbox every Sunday, you can sign up for the "Political Ticker - State of the Union Sunday Edition" at http://www.cnn.com/profile/
(CNN) - President Obama was aboard Air Force One over the Atlantic as this past Sunday's spinning, sparring and explaining played out. He has an increasingly ambitious overseas agenda at a telling time for his already crowded domestic portfolio.
At first glance, it's hard to be very optimistic about the prospects of getting Israel and the Palestinians back to the table, let alone back to the difficult choices of peacemaking. Yet the president, fresh from his outreach to the Muslim world, sounds remarkably upbeat. He is sending his special envoy, former Sen. George Mitchell, to the Middle East this week to put his new push to its first test.
Key subplots in the Middle East:
• Whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to come Obama's way.
• Whether Hamas and Hezbollah choose, as they often have in the past, to make themselves heard just when things get to a key juncture.
And waiting for Obama on the domestic front upon his return:
• A critical period for his push to get health-care reform this year.
• A rising unemployment rate that sobers the growing chorus of voices suggesting the worst of the recession is over.
• And the still evolving confirmation process for Supreme Court pick Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
And with that backdrop, these were the Sounds of Sunday:
WASHINGTON (CNN) –- As the world continues to digest and dissect President Obama’s historic speech directed at the Muslim world, a senior aide to the president is pushing back on the suggestion that Obama’s latest overseas trip amounted to an apology tour.
The president’s criticis “didn’t pay attention to this speech or any of the speeches he’s making,” senior adviser David Axelrod said in an interview aired Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “Embedded in this speech was a very strong explanation, explication of who we are and what we’re all about, our values as a country and our history as a country.”
Axelrod likewise rebuked the suggestion that Obama was critical of his predecessor while addressing the Muslim world from Cairo Thursday.
“Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world,” the president said in Egypt. “September 11th was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable. But in some cases it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals,” Obama also said.
Those comments were not specifically directed at the previous occupant of the Oval Office, Axelrod said Sunday.
Obama “didn’t point a finger at George W. Bush and he didn’t offer those observations to make a political point,” Axelrod told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King.
“He offered them to report candidly on the history of the last few years. That is well understood and well-known . . . you can’t be candid about other people’s actions and responsibilities and not your own.”
“It wasn’t meant to criticize any one person,” Axelrod added. “It was meant to discuss in an open and honest way where we’ve been in order to, as I’ve said, clear away the debris so we can move forward.”
During his appearance on State of the Union, Axelrod also discussed the Obama administration’s plans to jump start the Middle East peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.