Obama to Barak: I am committed to Israel's security

Haaretz.com | April 26, 2010

U.S. President Barack Obama held an impromptu meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday, during which Obama affirmed his country's "unshakeable commitment to Israel's security."

According to a White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, Obama "dropped by" a Monday morning meeting between Barak and U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones.

Obama also reasserted his administration's determination to achieve regional peace, "including a two-state solution with a secure Jewish state of Israel living side by side in peace and security with a viable and independent Palestinian state."

Barak and the American leaders discussed challenges to regional security, how to deal with threats faced by both the U.S. and Israel and how to move forward toward a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Municipal officials in Jerusalem said Monday that the government had effectively frozen construction of settlements in disputed East Jerusalem despite its public posture that building would continue. U.S. officials had no immediate comment.

Settlement building has been a large sticking point since Israel infuriated Washington last month by announcing a major new housing development in East Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley would not discuss what Israel was telling the United States about construction.

"We have asked both sides to take steps to rebuild trust and to create momentum so that we can see advances in the peace process," Crowley told reporters.

"We're not going to go into details about what we've asked them to do, but obviously this is an important issue in the atmosphere to see the advancement of peace.

U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, on Sunday said he held "positive and productive talks" with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an effort "to improve the atmosphere for peace and for proceeding with proximity talks.

Mitchell is expected back in the region next week.

Obama last June also unexpectedly dropped by a meeting between Barak and Jones, despite it not having been on his official schedule.

Last year's unplanned encounter came after senior American officials harshly criticized Netanyahu and his policies, causing tension between the Obama administration and Israel's government.