For the first time as the American leader, President Barack Obama will visit Israel in March (update: possibly March 20) as part of a wider tour of key nations in the epicenter. While the Iranian nuclear threat and the implosion of Syria will be top priority topics for newly re-elected Prime Minister Netanyahu, the newly re-elected Mr. Obama will likely make jump-starting the moribund peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians his top priority.
The biq question is whether this trip will represent a “re-set” of U.S.-Israeli relations in light of tensions in the past between Obama and Netanyahu, or whether the White House and State Department are planning a high-profile effort to pressure the not-yet-formed Israeli government to divide Jerusalem and make dangerous concessions. Presumably, Netanyahu will finish his coalition talks and announce his new government before Mr. Obama arrives.
Last Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry, who replaced Hillary Clinton, called Netanyahu, Israeli President Shimon Peres, and Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas among his first official phone calls. His staff indicates Kerry will head to Jerusalem and Ramallah this month to discuss how to move forward with creating a viable Palestinian state. On January 15th, Kerry reportedly met with Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon in Washington to lay the groundwork for the presidential visit.
Mr. Obama’s visit Israel and the Palestinian territories will occur “in the next few weeks,” reports the Times of Israel. “Israeli television broke news of the trip on Tuesday night, and said the White House had confirmed it would take place next month or in April, and that the details were agreed by Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a January 28 phone call.”
“The start of the president’s second term and the formation of a new Israeli government offer the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including Iran and Syria,” White House Spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday. “Additional details about the trip — including the dates of travel — will be released at a later time.”
The Jerusalem Post reported that sources indicated “late March as the expected arrival time” and noted that Israel’s Channel 10 reported that the visit “will take place as part of a regional tour also expected to take Obama to Ankara, Riyadh, Cairo and Ramallah.”
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