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. US lawmakers meet Netanyahu, cite Iran worries
WASHINGTON, May 19 (AFP) May 19, 2009
Top US lawmakers met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday, telling him they share deep concerns over Iran's suspect nuclear programs and offering support for Middle East peace.

One day after tense White House talks with US President Barack Obama, Netanyahu told Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner he saw the Congress as "great friends of Israel."

The prime minister, seemingly at odds with Obama on Iran and the US push for creating a Palestinian state, said he saw "an American consensus" regarding "the special relationship we have between Israel and the United States."

"We face opportunities and challenge. The challenge is the potential arming of Iran with nuclear weapons capabilities. That is a great danger to all of us," warned Netanyahu.

The prime minister said he would pursue "the advancement of peace between us and the Palestinians" -- omitting talk of a Palestinian state -- as well as normal relations with the broader Arab world.

"We have to do this in tandem," said Netanyahu. "I was very encouraged to learn that this is the American policy. We're going to try to do it together, because if we do it together we'll get a lot further, a lot faster."

Netanyahu later told reporters traveling with him that Israel was interested in renewing the peace process with the Palestinians "immediately, looking for ways for bringing new elements in the Arab world into the process."

"The Arab states should also take concrete steps and begin the process of reconciliation" with Israel, he said.

Pelosi and Boehner, at odds over major issues of domestic policy and bitter foes in the dispute over alleged US torture, underlined the consensus in the US Congress over the need to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

"The question of Iran is one that is of concern to us in Congress," said Pelosi. "It is an issue for the world. It is important for all of us to work together to be sure that Iran does not develop a weapon of mass destruction."

Pelosi noted the goal of "a two-state solution -- but I emphasize the word 'solution.' It must be a solution that provides for a democratic Jewish state of Israel living side by side with her Palestinian neighbors."

"Clearly, what happens with regard to dealing with the Palestinians is of concern to all of us. And I think we share, as the speaker said, a mutual concern about the development of nuclear weapons in Israel -- I mean in Iran," said Boehner.

"We have no closer ally and friend anywhere in the world than the state of Israel," said the Republican leader.

Pelosi assured Netanyahu that US lawmakers aimed "to shine a bright light on the plight of Gilad Shalit," an Israeli soldier held prisoner in Gaza since Palestinian militants seized him in a June 2006 raid.

The California Democrat said Shalit's captors should "know that he has many friends in the Congress of the United States and we are concerned about his freedom."

Netanyahu said he was "was very moved" by her words and underlined: "Our values say that we take care of prisoners in a humanitarian way, in accordance with international law, and, unfortunately, that is not being reciprocated."

The prime minister met earlier with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, a Democrat, and Senator Dick Lugar, the panel's top Republican, and was to meet later with the Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican counterpart, Mitch McConnell.

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