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Fuelled by White House success, Netanyahu heads to UN

After warm White House talks, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was to meet Wednesday with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, before heading to the UN for talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

world Updated: Jul 07, 2010 19:32 IST

After warm White House talks, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was to meet Wednesday with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, before heading to the UN for talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

Israel was hailing a new chapter of warm ties with its ally the United States after the upbeat summit between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama.

"A president now working with the premier, not against him," thrilled the right-wing Jerusalem Post. "This time, publicly at least, there were none of the harsh demands, none of the hectoring, none of the patronizing."

But the Israeli premier may find the UN secretary general less forthcoming during their talks later Wednesday.

Ban said Tuesday that while Israel's easing of its blockade of the Gaza Strip was welcome, more needed to be done to ease Palestinian hardships.

There are also calls at the United Nations for a full inquiry into the deaths of nine Turkish activists during an Israeli commando raid on May 31 on an aid flotilla trying to break the four-year blockade.

Israel has set up a commission of inquiry into the events with the participation of British and Canadian observers, but some nations are calling for a fuller international probe.

Israeli officials say that they do not expect such calls to win the support of the Security Council, but they expect criticism at other UN bodies where they say there is at times a majority hostile to Israel.

Israel has also given the go-ahead for the international community to import construction materials into Gaza, controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The United States has been leading moves to try to kickstart the long stalled Middle East peace talks, and has so far been hosting indirect proximity talks.

But after the White House meeting Tuesday, Obama said he hoped for direct peace talks to start before the end of September when an Israeli freeze on settlement building is due to expire.

"I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he's willing to take risks for peace," Obama told reporters.

He also strongly disputed suggestions that he had distanced the United States from Israel, sharing a prolonged handshake with the visiting Israeli leader for the cameras.

Netanyahu says he is ready to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at any time, and said he and Obama had discussed "concrete" steps which could be taken now.

"When I say 'the next few weeks,' that's what I mean. The president means that too," he said.

Obama also promised to help prevent a September session of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency from singling Israel out for harsh criticism.

The Quartet of Middle East peacemakers -- the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia -- will also meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September with members of the Security Council and the Arab League.

At his meeting with Ban, Netanyahu is expected to repeat his call for global support of US-led efforts to keep up diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran, already facing a fourth set of UN sanctions for refusing to rein in its nuclear program.

Western powers accuse Tehran of seeking to build an atomic bomb, charges vehemently denied by the Islamic republic.

Late Wednesday, Netanyahu will address Jewish leaders in New York and on Thursday will give a speech to the Council for Foreign Relations and meet with former president Bill Clinton.

The two men did not get along during Clinton's presidency, when Netanyahu served a previous term as premier and exasperated the White House with his policy encouraging Jewish settlement in occupied Palestinian territories.

Wednesday, an Israeli official said, Netanyahu values Clinton as a statesman with a great deal of experience seeking to resolve the Middle East conflict.