President Barack Obama is already facing criticism over remarks he made in an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes Sunday night, in which he appeared to dismiss criticism of his administration’s policies toward Israel as mere “noise.”
Asked whether he feels pressured by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take action on Iran, Obama said that he agrees with Israel’s insistence that Iran not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon.
But, he continued, “when it comes to our national security decisions — any pressure that I feel is simply to do what’s right for the American people. And I am going to block out — any noise that’s out there.”
“Now I feel an obligation, not pressure but obligation, to make sure that we’re in close consultation with the Israelis — on these issues,” he added. “Because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region.”
The comment appears to be a veiled jab, not only at critics of the Obama administration’s relationship with Israel, but at Netanyahu himself. The Israeli Prime Minister has become increasingly vocal in criticising the U.S. for not doing enough to stop Iran’s nuclear program, and hit the American political talk show circuit last Sunday to urge U.S. lawmakers to draw a red line over the Iranian nuclear threat.
Obama’s Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, has similarly criticised the president over his relationship with Israel. In his own 60 Minutes interview, which also aired Sunday, Romney slammed Obama for not taking a meeting with Netanyahu while the Israeli Prime Minister is in New York for the United Nations summit this week.
Obama’s defensive comments on Israel underscore the president’s diminished advantage on foreign policy issues in the wake of this month’s attacks on the U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya this month, which resulted in the deaths of four U.S. consulate employees, including the American ambassador to Libya.
And Obama didn’t do himself any favour Sunday night, when 60 Minutes anchor Steve Kroft asked if the recent attacks had given the president any pause over his administration’s support for the Arab Spring uprisings.
“I’d said even at the time that this is going to be a rocky path,” he said. “I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because — you know, in a lot of these places — the one organising principle — has been Islam. The one part of society that hasn’t been controlled completely by the government. There are strains of extremism, and anti-Americanism, and anti-Western sentiments….but I do think that over the long term we are more likely to get a Middle East and north Africa that is more peaceful, more prosperous and more aligned with our interests.”
The Republican National Committee and the Romney campaign immediately seized on the remarks, suggesting that the President’s comments trivialized the fatal attacks on the U.S. overseas.
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