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U.S. Works to Ease Tensions With Israel Over Netanyahu Speech

U.S. officials made a strong show of support for Israel as anger swirled around the prime minister's controversial speech to Congress this week.
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U.S. officials made a strong show of support Sunday for Israel as anger swirled around Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial speech to Congress this week.

The Obama administration has previously made it clear that it hadn't approved the address, which was scheduled for Tuesday by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, with President Barack Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, calling Netanyahu's plans "destructive to the fabric of the relationship." Obama has declined to meet with Netanyahu, saying publicly that he didn't want to be seen as intervening in March 17 elections in which Netanyahu is running for re-election.

But several senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, took steps Sunday to make it clear that any unhappiness had nothing to do with the underlying U.S.-Israeli partnership. Seeming to contradict Rice, Kerry said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that Netanyahu is "welcome to speak in the United States, obviously."

Kerry isn't even in the country for Netanyahu's visit — he's in Geneva to speak before the U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday. But a senior State Department official said Kerry spoke with the prime minister by phone Saturday to discuss not only their respective speeches, but also the Iran nuclear negotiations and the financial condition of the Palestinian Authority.

In Geneva with Kerry, a senior State Department official pointed Sunday to "the extraordinary lengths that President Obama, this administration, Secretary Kerry in particular, has gone to stand up for and defend Israel's interests in international institutions, and not just in the [Human Rights Council] but in places like the International Criminal Court in the U.N. system more broadly and repeatedly over the course over the last several years."

As if to drive home the point, another senior State Department official specifically criticized U.N. votes against Israel and said: "One of the strong focuses of the U.S. at the council is to try to push back on issues with Israel. ... Our position is in defense of Israel and in protection of Israel's interest."