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Obama, Israeli President to Meet at White House


US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (l) and Israeli President Shimon Peres meet at the Blair House in Washington, April 4, 2011

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (l) and Israeli President Shimon Peres meet at the Blair House in Washington, April 4, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama and Israel's President Shimon Peres are scheduled to meet at the White House on Tuesday for talks covering a range of issues - from the Israel-Palestinian peace process to unrest across the Middle East and Israeli security concerns.

President Obama and President Peres will have a working lunch at the White House, where the Israeli leader last visited in May of 2009.

As Peres arrived in Washington on Monday, Israeli media reports said he had been given a message to deliver to President Obama from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Israel's position on the renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians.

Israel-Palestinian negotiations stalled late last year when Netanyahu did not extend a temporary freeze on the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Both sides have continued to blame each for the stalemate.

On Monday, Peres met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Blair House, the official presidential guest residence across the street from the White House.

"This is a time of great opportunity, but it is also a time of many challenges," said Hillary Clinton.

Clinton said President Obama looks forward to talks with President Peres, which will also cover unrest in countries across the Middle East and North Africa, and what the developments might mean for Israel's security.

Speaking to reporters at Blair House, Peres said countries in the Middle East are experiencing "an awakening of the young generation of the Arab people" and said a better future for them means better friends and neighbors for Israel.

Addressing Israel-Palestinian peace efforts, President Obama's top Middle East Adviser Dennis Ross said Monday that both sides must see that their needs can be met through negotiations.

"Israelis, particularly during a time of change and uncertainty, must see that their security will be addressed in a meaningful way, and in a way that does not leave them vulnerable to the uncertainties and changes that are taking place in the region," said Ross. "Palestinians need to see that they can have an independent state that is contiguous and viable. And clearly, the more tangible signs that the occupation is receding, the more they will believe that is a possibility."

Ross called the U.S.-Israel security relationship "enduring," "unshakeable and ironclad," and said cooperation is more important because of changes across the region, which he said brought opportunities and risk.

Ross reiterated U.S. opposition to Palestinian efforts to obtain recognition of statehood, such as through the United Nations General Assembly, before any peace agreement is reached with Israel.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Obama is looking forward to the working lunch with President Peres, but in responding to reporter's questions avoided going into policy specifics.

"I am not going to engage in Middle East peace process negotiations here," said Carney. "Obviously, there are a lot of issues on the table. We encourage both sides to reengage in negotiations that are vital to a peace process that needs revitalization. But the elements of that, I am not going to get into."

President Peres is also expected to meet with Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. congressional leaders during his visit to Washington. The Israeli leader is expected to travel to New York on Wednesday for meetings there.

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