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US disavows sharp criticism of Israeli PM

WASHINGTON: The United States on Wednesday distanced itself from sharp criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after an unnamed administration official reportedly used an off-color term to describe him.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki agreed there were issues “where we express concern and there’s disagreement,” but amid concerns that US-Israeli ties are plunging to new lows, she insisted the US relationship with Israel “remains strong.”

“Our security bonds have never been greater and the ties between our nations are unshakeable,” Psaki told reporters.

Her comments came after an explosive online report in The Atlantic magazine quoted an unnamed Obama administration official saying: “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” using the Israeli leader’s nickname.

“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said.

“The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states.”

“The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat… He’s got no guts,” the official said.

But US officials lined up Wednesday to disavow the report.

“Certainly that’s not the administration’s view, and we think such comments are inappropriate and counter-productive,” national security spokesman Alistair Baskey hit back.

US President Barack Obama has “forged an effective partnership” with Netanyahu and the two men consult each other regularly, he added.

National Security Advisor Susan Rice also waded in, saying: “The relationship is not in crisis.”

“The relationship is actually fundamentally stronger in many respects than it’s ever been,” she told a Washington forum.

But in recent days, US officials have hit out at Israeli plans to build 1,000 new settlements in Arab east Jerusalem, calling such moves “incompatible” with Israel’s stated goal of pursuing peace talks with the Palestinians.

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s high-profile peace bid collapsed spectacularly earlier this year, in part after Israel unveiled more settlement plans only hours after he met Netanyahu.

The Atlantic reported US frustration has boiled over to the point that it may consider withdrawing “diplomatic cover for Israel” at the United Nations.

Psaki would not be drawn on what may happen in future UN discussions.

But she conceded that Israel has repeatedly said “they’d like to see a two-state solution.”

“Obviously actions, as I’ve said… like the announcement of new settlements, are counterproductive to that — or contradictory, I should say.” -AFP

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