US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday said the lack of peace in the Middle East was a threat to US national security interests in the region that was being exploited by the country's enemies.
"The lack of progress toward Middle East peace is clearly an issue that is exploited by our adversaries in the region and is a source of, certainly, political challenge," Gates told reporters in
Washington, dpa reported.
"There is no question that the absence of Middle East peace does affect US national security interests in the region, in my view," Gates said.
Gates' comments came amid a deep and public rift between the United States and Israel over the peace process. The US was angered by Israeli plans to build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, announced this month while Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama held talks in Washington on Tuesday, but the Israeli leader left the US without an agreement on how to advance peace talks with the Palestinians.
Despite the diplomatic spat, Gates said the "military-to-military relationship with Israel is as strong as it's ever been."