The U.S. ambassador to Israel is denying reports that he received a private tongue lashing from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over President Obama’s policy toward Iran and that he, in return, lectured the Israeli leader about the need for more diplomacy to prevent the extremist Islamic regime from building a nuclear bomb.
Ambassador Daniel Shapiro called a report last week in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot a “silly story,” according to the European Jewish Press in a dispatch from Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
Press reports of friction between Israel and the United States “don’t reflect the very close coordination and intense work we’ve done together,” the ambassador added.
Yediot Ahronot, the most widely read Israeli newspaper, reported on the diplomatic dust-up between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Shapiro during a closed meeting with visiting U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Mr. Netanyahu complained to the ambassador that the White House is “pressuring” Israel against attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities “instead of pressuring Iran in an effective way,” the newspaper said, quoting sources who attended the meeting.
The prime minister at one point declared that the “time has run out” for more diplomacy.
Mr. Shapiro responded by repeating the Obama administration’s position that international sanctions against Iran are working.
The headline over the story read, “The Confrontation,” and veteran reporter Shimon Schiffer wrote that “lightning and sparks flew” in the meeting.
BOW TO A DICTATOR
President Obama faced wide criticism for bowing to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Emperor Akihito of Japan and President Hu Jintao of China. He also gave a polite tilt of his head to Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, a gesture sometimes regarded as a bow in England.
Mr. Obama’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, however, took the obeisance to a new level when he bowed to a statue of the late autocratic leader of the oil-rich Central Asian nation.
In a photograph distributed by Azerbaijan’s official news service, Ambassador Richard Morningstar is pictured clearly bowing to the statue of Heydar Aliyev on Monday after presenting his diplomatic credentials to the new president, Mr. Aliyev’s son, Ilham.
“New U.S. ambassador bowed in front of late Azerbaijani dictator’s monument,” said the headline in a dispatch from the Azeri Report, which also noted that Mr. Morningstar was “setting a new precedent for U.S. diplomats.”
In Washington, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told our correspondent Guy Taylor that Mr. Morningstar was laying flowers at the monument. The U.S. Embassy in the capital of Baku said Mr. Morningstar’s visit to the statue was a routine gesture for a new ambassador.
Heydar Aliyev was a general in the old Soviet KGB secret police, and ruled Azerbaijan with iron-fisted ruthlessness from 1993 until his death in 2003. His reign was marred by reports of human rights abuses and fraudulent elections.
Mr. Morningstar, a political appointee and a major Democratic Party campaign contributor, is a former CEO for the CoStar commercial real estate corporation. He served in the Clinton administration as ambassador to the European Union and as a special adviser on the European and Eurasian countries that gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
He was also as a special adviser to President Clinton on Caspian Sea oil issues, and promoted the construction of an oil pipeline from the Azeri capital of Baku to the Turkish city of Ceyhan.
In remarks last week after arriving in Baku, Mr. Morningstar noted that he has been traveling to Azerbaijan since 1995.
“I can remember fondly my many visits with President Heydar Aliyev and, in recent years, with President Ilham Aliyev,” he said.
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