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U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham
MK Tzipi Livni, Head of the Oppostion; Former Minister of Foreign Affairs
AMBASSADOR CUNNINGHAM: The relationship between Israel and the United States is, and will be, special. I think context is incredibly important when you are looking at the nature of a bilateral relationship like ours which takes place in a regional context that is really quite unique in the world. Our two governments have been working together for only nine months. That is not very long when you account for the settling in period and the slippage that occurs at the beginning of any new government. We have had, as I think that you noted Aluf, two new Administrations, not just one – which means new people, new attitudes, new imperatives on both sides and a strong impulse to move to address both domestic and international concerns.
This context is important because we have had a lot of what I regard as exaggerated commentary about the nature of the relationship between our two administrations. I think that is actually quite dangerous because it could lead others in this region and elsewhere to underestimate what is indeed the core connection between our two countries, and between these two governments.
It is perfectly natural that two new governments like this are going to have some tension as they set up and start pursuing what are in fact common goals. That is certainly what happened in this case: You have a new American Administration coming in with a tremendous sense of energy and purpose generated by the Presidential campaign and by President Obama, a new sense of hope and optimism and energy in our country trying to move very rapidly to deal with the most pressing and difficult set of issues that an American President perhaps has ever confronted, certainly that an American President has confronted since the Second World War.
It is much better to keep the context in mind and to make a realistic assessment of what the nature of our relationship is. We have a very strong bilateral relationship. As Uzi Arad said last night “sometimes when things are seen in public they don’t happen and sometimes when they are not seen they do happen.” We have a rich texture that we are working on. From the outset President Obama made very clear, including in Cairo, when he addressed the Muslim world, that the American connection with Israel is and will be unbreakable, and he made very clear to countries around the world not to make any mistake about that. He also called on the Muslim world to accept the reality of Israel.
As a career diplomat I have to say that our bilateral relationship with Israel is as rich as any that I have seen. It is really exceptionally close and it continues to be so with this Administration and with President Obama personally.
Even before the Obama Administration came into office, its spokespeople expressed support for Israel’s right to self-defense in Gaza. When the Administration came into office, Cast Lead had just ended. We set about immediately to try to re-launch negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in what were not very encouraging circumstances at the time. We have over the last couple of months been working with our Israeli partners. We have developed a much richer, qualitatively improved dialogue on Iran, the central security threat to this region, that includes deepened discussions both of analysis and strategy. We have improved our discussion on Israel’s security in the regional context at Israel’s request. Others have cited the work that we are doing together on missile defense. We have taken the lead -- and this an important consideration for both of our countries and for the international community – we have taken the lead in stopping attempts in the international arena to delegitimize Israel, especially in the context of the Goldstone Report, Durban II, and other things. We have made clear from the outset that this Administration recognizes Israel as the Jewish state and we have confirmed – somebody else mentioned this also – the very important security assistance program that spreads over a decade between the United States and Israel.
We have had some differences over how to pursue peace in this region but our goals have been essentially the same. We are doing this because this is in Israel’s interest as well as the interest of the United States. We have not produced the breakthrough that the Obama Administration hoped for at the outset, but we have made very clear -- the President has personally made clear in his speech in Oslo – that we are determined to continue that effort.
I think it is a bit unfair, I have to say, to focus on the fact that there wasn’t a section in the State of the Union speech on the Middle East. The President has spoken to that and if you saw the speech it was a really unique effort to address a range of issues. There were almost no foreign policy issues addressed in the speech at all, although the one issue that is of greatest concern to us here, which is Iran, was addressed.
We are intent on proceeding down the path that we have set out. We continue to have a sense of urgency and somewhat of a sense of disappointment that more has not been achieved in the peace effort thus far. We recognize that the Israeli government has made steps in that direction which we appreciate and which we are encouraging. We look forward to finding a way to move forward and get into negotiations in the near future.
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