WASHINGTON, March 19 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday to protest remarks by Israel's defense minister that portrayed the United States as weak in its handling of nuclear talks with Iran and other world affairs, a State Department spokeswoman said.
Speaking during a lecture at Tel Aviv University on Monday, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel could not rely on its main ally to take the lead in confronting Iran over its nuclear program. He also pointed to Ukraine's crisis as an example of Washington "showing weakness."
It is the second time this year that Washington has taken issue with tough public criticism from Yaalon, a former armed forces chief and a hawkish member of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party.
In January, he described Kerry's quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace as messianic and obsessive.
"Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning and he protested to him his concerns about these comments," spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a daily briefing.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu himself has said that the breadth of our security cooperation is unprecedented," Psaki said.
"So it is certainly confusing to us why Defense Minister Yaalon would continue his pattern of making comments that don't accurately represent the scope of our close partnership on a range of security issues and on the enduring partnership between the United States and Israel."
White House spokesman Jay Carney also rejected Yaalon's comments as "clearly not constructive" and insisted that the United States "maintains an unshakeable commitment to Israel's security."
Netanyahu has denounced as a "historic mistake" an interim deal between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, on curbing sensitive nuclear activities in return for limited sanctions relief.
In Yaalon's latest comments, which were reported by Haaretz daily on Tuesday and confirmed by an Israeli official who as present at the lecture, Yaalon displayed deep disappointment with U.S. President Barack Obama's handling of global issues.
The United States is seeking to broker a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, with efforts intensifying in recent weeks to secure agreement on a framework for talks by the end of April.
Kerry has said mistrust between the sides has never been higher and urged both sides to take political risks to get the deal done. (Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)