Obama to visit Israel in spring

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President Obama is planning to visit Israel this spring, the White House confirmed to Al Monitor Tuesday. It will be his first trip to the Jewish state since taking office.

“When the President spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu on January 28, they discussed a visit by the President to Israel in the spring,” NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor said by email Tuesday, in response to a query.

“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,”  Vietor said.  “Additional details about the trip – including the dates of travel – will be released at a later time.”

Obama will also travel to the West Bank and Jordan.

Israel's Channel 10 reported Tuesday that President Obama will visit Israel on March 20th. The White House did not confirm his travel dates.

Israeli sources told Al-Monitor that President Obama initiated the plan for the Israel trip, early in his and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new terms. “It reflects a priority,” a former Israeli official surmised.

The early spring trip also gives Obama the opportunity to try to reach out to Israeli leaders and the public before potential new tensions strain the alliance, including over the timeline for diplomacy with Iran. It also offers perhaps something of a fresh start for relations between the two leaders who have often been at odds over the past four years, even as US-Israeli security cooperation has expanded to unprecedented levels.

Earlier, Israeli media reported that Netanyahu does not plan to travel to Washington for the AIPAC conference in early March, in part because his new government may not be seated yet.

Obama last traveled to Israel during his 2008 presidential campaign. While some aides advocated for him to travel to Israel in his first term, crises over settlement building and Iran red lines continually beset the Obama-Netanyahu relationship, and it became increasingly untenable to find the right moment.

This trip seems to be being scheduled early in the second term ahead of any such potential new blow-ups. President Obama may also seek to persuade Netanyahu to give more time for diplomacy with Iran. European diplomats said Tuesday Iran had agreed to resume nuclear negotiations with six world powers in Kazakhstan on February 26th.

(Photos: In this handout photo provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) is briefed by Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak (R) and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (C) on the strategic balance of power in the Middle East as they sit in an Israeli Air Force helicopter before taking off for the southern town of Sderot July 23, 2008 from a helipad in Jerusalem. July 23, 2008. Getty Images Europe)

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