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Israeli minister apologizes to Kerry for 'messianic' remarks

Larry Downing / Reuters

Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Jerusalem on Sept. 15, 2013. Kerry is due to return to Israel within days.

TEL AVIV, Israel -- Israel's defense minister apologized to Secretary of State John Kerry Tuesday after a newspaper quoted him branding the diplomat as "messianic" just days before he is due to visit the country.

Moshe Yaalon did not deny making the furor-causing remarks, but issued a statement praising Kerry.

"Israel and the United States share a common goal to advance the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians led by Secretary Kerry," it read, in Hebrew and English, according to Reuters. 

"The defense minister had no intention to cause any offence to the secretary, and he apologizes if the secretary was offended by the remarks attributed to the minister."

The State Department shot back Tuesday upon hearing about Yaalon's remarks.

"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," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Yaalon was quoted by the Yediot Aharonot newspaper on Tuesday as saying that the only thing that could "save" Israel was for Kerry to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and "leave us alone."

"Secretary of State John Kerry came here very determined and operates based upon an unfathomable obsession and a messianic feeling," Yaalon was quoted as saying. "Throughout the recent months, there is no negotiation between us and the Palestinians, but rather, between us and the Americans. The only thing that can 'save' us is that John Kerry will get a Nobel Peace Prize and leave us alone."

Abir Sultan / Associated Press

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon suggested that John Kerry should "leave us alone."

The State Department's stinging response added that questioning Kerry's motives and distorting his proposals were "not something we would expect from the Defense Minister of a close ally."

Yaalon later clarified his remarks, according to Haaretz, describing the U.S. as Israel's "greatest friend."

The United States is seeking to broker an agreement on a "two-state solution" in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a new Palestinian state. Kerry wants the sides to agree to a framework for an interim accord ahead of a deal in April, which would launch another year of talks aimed at a full-blown peace treaty. 

A framework would touch on all the main issues, including security, the future of Jerusalem and the fate of refugees. 

The Palestinians see the Jewish settlements as an obstacle to achieving a viable state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Most countries consider Israel's settlements there illegal.

Yaalon also told Yediot Aharonot that the latest U.S. peace plan for the region was "not worth the paper it was written on" because it contained "neither security nor peace."  

"I live and breathe the conflict with the Palestinians," he said. "I know what they think, what they want and what they really mean."

Kerry is expected to return to Israel within days as part of his peace push.

Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Army Radio that he agreed with the contents of Yaalon's interview, but added that, despite disagreements, there was no need to resort to personal insults.  

NBC News' Catherine Chomiak and Reuters contributed to this report.

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