WHITE HOUSE — President Barack Obama will soon make his first visit to Israel as U.S. leader. He also will go to the West Bank and Jordan for wide-ranging talks that include the situation in Syria and tensions with Iran.
White House press secretary Jay Carney confirmed the planned trip during Tuesday's White House news briefing after reporters asked about accounts that first emerged in Israeli media.
He said Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the visit during a telephone conversation last month.
"When the president spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu on January 28th, they discussed a visit by the president to Israel in the spring. 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 of course, Iran and Syria."
West Bank, Jordan on tap
Additionally, Obama will visit the West Bank and Jordan to continue what Carney called "his close work" with the Palestinian Authority and Jordanian officials on "bilateral and regional issues of mutual interest."
Israeli media reported that Obama would arrive March 20. Carney would not confirm that, saying additional information, including dates of travel, will be released at a later time.
During his first presidential term, Obama voiced frustration with his inability to move Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts forward. Efforts were made more difficult by the issue of Israel's settlement policy in East Jerusalem.
The president and White House officials frequently have described the U.S.-Israel relationship as stronger than ever. But Obama's relationship with Netanyahu has been described as difficult and tense.
Restarting peace efforts
In the recent Israeli election, Netanyahu's Likud Party emerged as the largest bloc in parliament. But he faces increased political pressure for progress in negotiations for a two-state solution to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In 2008, Obama visited Israel and the West Bank while a candidate for president, pledging to protect Israel and prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
In September 2010, Obama brought Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan's King Abdullah, and then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to the White House for talks.
At the time, Obama said he was "cautiously hopeful" that progress could be made in Israel-Palestinian peace efforts.