Netanyahu plays down rift with Obama ahead of Biden visit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Sunday of "strong" ties with the United States ahead of a visit by Vice President Joe Biden, despite deep disagreement over the nuclear accord with Iran.

"This visit expresses the strong relations between Israel and our ally the US," Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting.

"There are those who have predicted the collapse of these relations. It is not so. The relationship is strong in all areas and also in face of the challenges that we are standing together against in our region."

Israeli officials are anxious to avoid the kind of diplomatic dust up which marred Biden's last visit to Israel six years ago in March 2010. An announcement for housing plans in the neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo led to an angry backlash first from the Vice President, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who lambasted Netanyahu during a 43 minute phone call.

Biden is set to arrive on Tuesday for talks with Netanyahu as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Israel and the United States have been seeking to move past deep disagreement over the Iran nuclear accord and work out a new 10-year defense aid package.

The current deal grants Israel some $3.1 billion annually, in addition to spending on other projects such as missile defense.

Biden's visit comes amid a surge in terrorism that has left more than 30 Israelis dead and hundreds wounded. The White House said on Friday that Biden would not be pursuing any major new peace initiatives during his visit.

US President Barack Obama has acknowledged that there will be no comprehensive agreement between Israelis and Palestinians before he leaves office in January 2017. His administration's harsh criticism of Israeli housing construction in Judea and Samaria has added to tensions between the two longstanding allies.

Biden is also expected to discuss the fight against the Islamic State group
with Netanyahu.

AFP contributed to this report

Source: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/208959

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