US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a town hall meeting with university students at the State Department in Washington, DC on March 18, 2014
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a town hall meeting with university students at the State Department in Washington, DC on March 18, 2014 © Jewel Samad - AFP/File
US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a town hall meeting with university students at the State Department in Washington, DC on March 18, 2014
AFP
Last updated: March 19, 2014

Kerry protested about Israel minister's criticism

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In a rare move, Secretary of State John Kerry protested Wednesday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about strong criticism of US foreign policy by his outspoken defense minister.

In a telephone call, Kerry told Netanyahu the comments made by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon were inconsistent with strong ties between Israel and the United States, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"Clearly his comments were not constructive," Psaki told reporters, after Yaalon accused the US administration of showing weakness around the world, particularly on its policy with Iran and Ukraine.

"Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning and protested to him his concerns about these comments," she said, adding that the United States has an "unshakeable commitment" to Israel's security.

"It is certainly confusing to us why Defense Minister Yaalon would continue his pattern of making comments that don't accurately represent the scope of our close partnership on a range of security issues and on the enduring partnership between the United States and Israel."

But Kerry has a "thick skin" and "we're ready to move forward and keep talking about the peace process," Psaki added.

In a later statement issued by the Israeli defense minister's office after he spoke with his US counterpart Chuck Hagel, Yaalon said: "There was in my comments no criticism or intention to offend the United States."

"The strategic relations between our countries is of supreme importance as are personal relations at every level. I highly value the relations between Israel and the United States."

It is not Yaalon's first diatribe against the administration of President Barack Obama and Kerry himself.

In January, the State Department denounced as "offensive" comments made by the minister accusing Kerry of an "incomprehensible obsession" with his push for Middle East peace.

Yaalon was later forced to apologize to the top US diplomat, who has been trying to hammer out for the past year a comprehensive peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians.

In an address to Tel Aviv University, Yaalon was quoted as saying Tuesday that if the United States continued to demonstrate weakness overseas, its own security would be harmed.

"If you sit and wait at home, terrorism will come again," the Haaretz daily quoted him as saying.

"If your image is feebleness, it doesn't pay in the world... I hope the United States comes to its senses. If it doesn't, it will challenge the world order and the United States is the one that will suffer."

He also toughened his line on Iran and appeared ready to back an Israeli military strike.

"We had thought the ones who should lead the (military) campaign against Iran is the United States... But at some stage, the United States entered into negotiations with them, and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better," he said.

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