JERUSALEM, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon apologized late Tuesday for his harsh remarks about U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's ongoing peacemaking efforts in the Middle East.
In a statement issued just before midnight, Ya'alon apologized for offending Kerry by calling him "obsessive and messianic" in pushing for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
"The defense minister had no intention to cause any offense to the secretary, and he apologizes if the secretary was offended by words attributed to the minister," said the statement.
"Israel and the United States share a common goal to advance the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians led by Secretary Kerry. We appreciate Secretary Kerry's many efforts towards that end," it added.
According to the website of the Haaretz newspaper, the apology was issued after a two-hour meeting between Ya'alon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the latter's residence in Jerusalem.
The statement, composed together with Netanyahu, followed a lukewarm response from Ya'alon earlier in the day, which was rejected by the Obama administration.
On Tuesday, Israel's biggest-selling daily Yedioth Ahronoth published comments attributed to hawkish Ya'alon, who said Kerry was "obsessive and messianic."
"The only thing that can 'save' us is for Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us alone," he was quoted as saying in private conversations with associates and U.S. officials in recent months.
"In effect, there have been no negotiations between us and the Palestinians during these past months, but between us and the Americans," Ya'alon said ahead of one of Kerry's 10 trips to the region since last July.
Ya'alon, who headed the Israeli army's West Bank Division and Central Command during the second Palestinian Intifada, or Uprising, against Israel, also slammed U.S.-devised security provisions for an Israeli pullout from the West Bank in a peace deal, saying it was "not worth the paper it's written on."
His harsh remarks led to a furious response on Tuesday afternoon from the U.S. State Department.
"The remarks of the defense minister, if accurate, are offensive and inappropriate, especially given all that the United States is doing to support Israel's security needs," said State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki.
"Secretary Kerry and his team have been working day and night to try to promote a secure peace for Israel because of the secretary's deep concern for Israel's future," she said. "To question his motive and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally."
Meanwhile, Netanyahu tried to calm down the spirits and control the damage caused by his cabinet minister.
"Even when we have disagreements with the United States, they are always on the heart of the matter, not on the merits of an individual," he said in front of the Knesset (parliament) plenum in a special assembly marking 65 years since its establishment.
"The U.S. is our greatest ally," Netanyahu said. "We are partners in goals and joint interests: regional stability, the war on terror, growth, security and peace. We are making efforts to bring security to the region and stand up for our interests."
Following Tuesday's reports in Yedioth Ahronoth, Ya'alon's office released a statement saying Israel attaches great value to its ties with the United States, but did not deny or retract the reported remarks.
"The relationship between Israel and the U.S. is intimate and of great significance to us. The U.S. is our greatest friend and most important ally, and when divisions emerge we work them out behind closed doors," said the statement.
"I have many conversations with Kerry with regard to Israel's future," Ya'alon said, adding that he would continue to safeguard his country's security "with determination and responsibility."
Local media reported that senior U.S. officials were not satisfied with the Israeli government's response to Ya'alon's remarks and expected Netanyahu to issue a public condemnation.
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