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Jun 18, 11:37 AM EDT

Israeli minister summons former diplomat over Obama critique

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Conflict in the Middle East

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's finance minister distanced himself on Thursday from claims by the country's former ambassador to the U.S., a member of his party, that President Barack Obama is purposely damaging bilateral relations.

Moshe Kahlon said in a letter to America's ambassador to Israel that he "summoned" Michael Oren, now a lawmaker in his Kulanu party, to his office after learning that Oren had expressed his views in an op-ed this week in the Wall Street Journal. The Associated Press on Thursday received a copy of the letter.

Kahlon said Oren's comments reflected his personal views only, and praised Obama for supporting Israel.

Oren said Obama abandoned longstanding principles of U.S.-Israel relations by openly disagreeing with Israel and not coordinating with it over changes to Mideast policies.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby called Oren's account "absolutely inaccurate."

Traditionally strong U.S.-Israeli ties have been strained under Obama and Netanyahu, who are divided over nuclear talks with Iran and peace efforts with the Palestinians.

"Michael Oren is not a member of the government. His recent article in the Wall Street journal reflects his own views," a senior official in the Israeli prime minister's office said anonymously according to protocol.

"Netanyahu has consistently expressed his appreciation...for all that President Obama has done for Israel's security."

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