Obama Downgrades U.S.-Israel Alliance


Update (1:16 p.m.): Asked who is the closest ally of the United States in the Middle East after the president’s comments, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Israel is the closest U.S. ally in the Middle East during a Monday press briefing.

As the United Nations General Assembly gets underway and leaders from around the world begin to congregate in New York City, President Obama seemingly downgraded Israel’s traditional status as the closest U.S. ally in the Middle East. In a “60 Minutes” interview Sunday night, Obama simply called Israel “one of” America’s closest allies in the region.

Responding to a question about Israel’s request that he explain his “red lines” on the Iranian nuclear program, Obama said, “I am going to block out any noise that’s out there.” He continued, saying that despite the “noise,” he is “in close consultation with the Israelis” because “they’re one of our closest allies in the region.”

Obama did not elaborate on the other countries he considers close allies in a region that includes Syria, Egypt, and Turkey, among others.

In the past, Obama has identified Turkey’s Islamist leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as the Middle East leader to whom he feels closest, and media reports have said that Obama has placed calls to Erdogan more than any other world leader except British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Obama will not have an opportunity to discuss Israel’s status as a U.S. ally with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will be in New York this week, because Obama declined a request from Netanyahu for a meeting.

The full exchange:

STEVE KROFT: You don’t feel any pressure from Prime Minister Netanyahu in the middle of a campaign to try and get you to change your policy and draw a line in the sand? You don’t feel any pressure?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: 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. Because it affects them deeply. They’re one of our closest allies in the region. And we’ve got an Iranian regime that has said horrible things that directly threaten Israel’s existence.