News / Middle East

Israel: Obama Visit to Focus on Iran, Syria, Palestinians

 President Barack Obama waves following his arrival on Marine One helicopter from the House Democratic Issues Conference in Lansdowne, Virginia, as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, February 7, 2013. President Barack Obama waves following his arrival on Marine One helicopter from the House Democratic Issues Conference in Lansdowne, Virginia, as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, February 7, 2013.
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 President Barack Obama waves following his arrival on Marine One helicopter from the House Democratic Issues Conference in Lansdowne, Virginia, as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, February 7, 2013.
President Barack Obama waves following his arrival on Marine One helicopter from the House Democratic Issues Conference in Lansdowne, Virginia, as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, February 7, 2013.
Robert Berger
— Israel is gearing up for the visit of the president of the United States, which is expected next month.

Barack Obama’s visit to Israel will be his first as U.S. president, and the issue topped the agenda at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the upcoming visit underscores the strong alliance between the United States and Israel.

It will be the first time the two leaders have met since each won re-election:  Obama in November and Netanyahu last month.

Netanyahu said the visit will focus on three issues: preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, the civil war in neighboring Syria and its implications on the region, and resuming peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Both leaders hope to find common ground after sharp public disagreements during their previous term over Iran and the Palestinians.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but Israel and the United States believe the Islamic Republic is building nuclear weapons that could threaten the existence of the Jewish state.  However, Obama has opposed Israeli threats to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, saying there is more time for diplomacy.

US President Barack Obama is seen with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walking toward the East Room of the White House in Washington September 1, 2010.US President Barack Obama is seen with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walking toward the East Room of the White House in Washington September 1, 2010.
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US President Barack Obama is seen with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walking toward the East Room of the White House in Washington September 1, 2010.
US President Barack Obama is seen with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walking toward the East Room of the White House in Washington September 1, 2010.
The president has also condemned Israel’s expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that have caused a four-year deadlock in the peace process.

Obama will discuss reviving peace talks when he visits the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.  Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi says it is an opportunity for change.

“We hope that it does signal a seriousness of intent in terms of re-engaging in a positive and constructive way, not by launching negotiations for their own sake, but rather by providing clear steps in order to end this Israeli occupation and to prepare the ground effectively for a just peace,” Ashrawi said.

Since winning re-election, Prime Minister Netanyahu has called on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.  He says he hopes to form a national unity government with moderate parties that support the peace process.

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