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Obama says Middle East peace deal doable, but will be 'wrenching'

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • President Obama gives an interview to an Israeli television network
  • Obama says a Middle East peace agreement can happen within his current term
  • Israeli mistrust of Obama may be due to his middle name - Hussein - or outreach to Muslims, he says
  • Obama says Isreali prime minister's reputation as a hawk may help him pull off a deal

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama told an Israeli television network that he thinks there can be a Middle East peace agreement by the end of his current term, but "it's going to be wrenching."

In an interview conducted Wednesday with Channel 2 Israel that was made public Thursday, Obama said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be "well positioned" to bring about a deal with the Palestinians because of his reputation as a conservative "hawk."

"The Israeli people are going to have to overcome legitimate skepticism and more than legitimate fears in order to get a change that I think will secure Israel for another 60 years," Obama said of a peace agreement. He also said of a deal: "It will be wrenching."

Asked about concerns in Israel that Obama may lack the same commitment to the Jewish state as previous U.S. leaders, the president noted that all his speeches and actions since taking office demonstrate full support for a strategic ally and recognition of the special relationship between the nations.

His chief of staff is named Rahm Israel Emanuel, Obama said, and his top political adviser "is someone who is a descendant of Holocaust survivors."

He said some of the concern might be because his middle name is Hussein, or because of his well-publicized outreach to the world's Muslim community.

"I think that sometimes, particularly in the Middle East, there's the feeling of, 'The friend of my enemy must be my enemy,' and the truth of the matter is that my outreach to the Muslim community is designed precisely to reduce the antagonism and the dangers posed by a hostile Muslim world to Israel and to the West," Obama said.

On Tuesday, Obama and Netanyahu met at the White House and later stressed the unbreakable ties between their nations to reporters. The two leaders made a point of shaking hands twice for the cameras as part of an effort to dispel the notion of frayed relations in recent months.

Asked about any problems, Netanyahu chose to paraphrase American humorist Mark Twain by noting that reports of the demise of the special U.S.-Israeli relationship "aren't just premature, they're just flat wrong."

The meeting, their fifth since Netanyahu took office last spring, focused on revitalizing the Middle East peace process as well as discussing other issues, including efforts to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal.

"The president and I discussed concrete steps that could be done now -- in the coming days, in the coming weeks -- to move the peace process further along in a very robust way," Netanyahu said.