Israel plays down deep disagreement with US ahead of Biden visit

Friday 04/03/2016
Netanyahu: Biden’s visit expresses strong relations

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Sunday of "strong" ties with the United States ahead of a visit by Vice President Joe Biden, despite deep disagreement over the nuclear accord with Iran.

"This visit expresses the strong relations between Israel and our ally the US," Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting.

"There are those who have predicted the collapse of these relations. It is not so. The relationship is strong in all areas and also in face of the challenges that we are standing together against in our region."

Biden is set to arrive on Tuesday for talks with Netanyahu as well as Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah.

Israel and the United States have been seeking to move past deep disagreement over the Iran nuclear accord, which Netanyahu strongly opposed, and work out a new 10-year defence aid package.

The current deal grants Israel some $3.1 billion annually, in addition to spending on other projects such as missile defence.

Biden's visit comes amid a five-month wave of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories that has killed 181 Palestinians as well as 28 Israelis.

Most of the Palestinians who died in the violence were killed while carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities.

Others were shot dead by Israeli forces during clashes or demonstrations.

The White House said on Friday that Biden would not be pursuing any major new peace initiatives during his visit.

US President Barack Obama has acknowledged that there will be no comprehensive agreement between Israelis and Palestinians before he leaves office in January 2017.

His administration's harsh criticism of Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank has added to tensions between the two longstanding allies.

Biden is also expected to discuss the fight against the Islamic State group with Netanyahu.