Obama Scolds Netanyahu: 'Hard to Find a Path' to Work Together

President Obama, who waited days to telephone Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his re-election, scolded the Israeli prime minister on Saturday, saying "it is going to be hard to find a path" to work together.

In an interview with the liberal Huffington Post website, the president refused to take Netanyahu at his word that he wants a two-state solution in the Middle East.

"We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn't happen during his prime ministership, and so that's why we've got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don't see a chaotic situation in the region," he said.

Well, I had a chance to speak to Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, congratulated his party on his victory. I did indicate to him that we continue to believe that a two-state solution is the only way for the long-term security of Israel, if it wants to stay both a Jewish state and democratic. And I indicated to him that given his statements prior to the election, it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible.

So we’re evaluating what’s taking place. I think Prime Minister Netanyahu still has to form a government; we’ll be in close consultation with them. We're going to make sure, regardless of disagreements we have on policy, that our military and intelligence cooperation to keep the Israeli people safe continues and that cooperation also helps the American people stay safe.

But we are going to continue to insist that, from our point of view, the status quo is unsustainable. And that while taking into complete account Israel's security, we can't just in perpetuity maintain the status quo, expand settlements. That's not a recipe for stability in the region.

The reporter asked the president about his reaction to Netanyahu's Election Day warning about Arab voters heading to the polls "in droves," which some U.S. pundits called racist.

We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel's traditions. That although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly. And I think that that is what's best about Israeli democracy. If that is lost, then I think that not only does it give ammunition to folks who don't believe in a Jewish state, but it also I think starts to erode the meaning of democracy in the country.

Obama said he didn't think Netanyahu's re-election -- which his administration secretly fought against -- will have any effect on his "ability to sell any Iranian nuclear agreement to both the American public and this Congress?

I don't think it will have a significant impact. Obviously there's significant skepticism in Israel generally about Iran. And understandably. Iran has made vile comments, anti-Semitic comments, comments about the destruction of Israel. It is precisely for that reason that even before I became president, I said Iran could not have a nuclear weapon.

What is going to have an effect on whether we get a deal done is, number one, is Iran prepared to show, to prove to the world that it is not developing a nuclear weapon, and can we verify that in an intrusive, consistent way.

And frankly, they have not yet made the kind of concessions that are I think going to be needed for a final deal to get done. But they have moved, and so there's the possibility.

The other thing is going to be me being able to show not just the American people or the Israeli people but the world that, in fact, we have mechanisms in place that will prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon. And that the deal that is made not only is verifiable, but it also makes it much less likely that Iran is able to break out than if we have no deal at all. And that's an argument that we are going to have to make, if we have a deal. But we've still got some more to do.

While there have been reports that there is a draft deal circulating, Obama said it's not over till it's over.

There is no deal until everything is worked out. And I think that it's premature to suggest that there is a draft out there. What is true is that there has been movement from the Iranian side. We are consulting with the P5+1.

Negotiations have broken for a week because of the Nowruz holidays inside of Iran, which gives time for us to make sure that everybody within the P5+1 is comfortable with the current positions that are being taken. It allows them to consult. We'll be back in a week. Our goal though is to get this done in a matter of weeks, not months.