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U.S. has 'no better friend' than Israel: Biden

TEL AVIV, Israel -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has opened a high-profile speech in Israel with warm words of praise for the Jewish state.

Biden appears to be trying to calm a diplomatic row that erupted during his visit over Israeli settlement plans for disputed east Jerusalem.

The vice president told the audience at Tel Aviv University on Thursday the U.S. has “no better friend” than Israel. He also spoke about his long connection to Israel.

Earlier this week, Biden condemned Israel's plan to build 1,600 new homes in disputed east Jerusalem, saying it undermined trust in peace efforts.

Israel has apologized for embarrassing Biden, but not backed down from the construction plan.

Biden is in Israel to help restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Palestinians are threatening to pull out of U.S.-mediated peace talks with Israel before the negotiations even start.

The two sides agreed this week to resume indirect talks through a U.S. mediator.

Israel announced the construction plan earlier this week, marring a visit by Vice President Joe Biden and drawing harsh criticism from Washington.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says the Palestinians have asked Washington to press Israel to scrap the settlement plan. He says the Palestinians are waiting for an answer before deciding whether to resume negotiations.

Biden is to deliver a speech in Tel Aviv later Thursday.

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