WASHINGTON - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will stress the need for urgency in dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions when he meets U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday, a senior Netanyahu adviser said.
By putting Iran at the top of his agenda, Netanyahu will be sending a strong signal to Obama that Palestinian statehood, backed by the United States but not endorsed by the new Israeli leader, is not an issue requiring immediate attention.
Netanyahu's plan to shift the focus of stalled peace talks away from tough issues such as borders and the future of Jewish settlements could mean a rocky road ahead in traditionally strong U.S.-Israeli relations.
Pursuing a project that Washington has already opposed as an obstacle to peace efforts, an Israeli official on Monday confirmed that contractors had been asked for plans to expand a settlement in the occupied West Bank. Critics said the move was deliberately timed by settlers to spotlight their cause.
Mr. Netanyahu will focus on the subject of a nuclear Iran, his national security adviser, Uzi Arad, told reporters on the eve of the White House meeting.
There is a sense of urgency on our side, Arad said, calling a nuclear-armed Iran a threat to Israel's existence. The prime minister will emphatically emphasized the element of urgency.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said this month that world powers should take action against Iran if it does not curb its nuclear activities by August.
If diplomacy fails, Israeli leaders have not ruled out military strikes against Iran, which maintains it is enriching uranium for power generation.
Any call by Netanyahu to put a time limit on diplomatic overtures toward Iran could pose a challenge to Obama's intention to engage Tehran on issues ranging from its nuclear program to Afghanistan.
In a Newsweek magazine interview, Obama said he hoped to persuade Netanyahu, on his first visit to Washington since taking office on March 31, that the U.S. diplomatic approach toward Iran was best.
I can make an argument to Israel as an ally that the approach we are taking is one that has to be given a chance and offers the prospect of security, not just for the United States but also for Israel, that is superior to other alternatives, Obama said.
Netanyahu is under pressure from rightist political allies to pursue settlement building and resist pressure to pursue the peace strategy of former prime minister Ehud Olmert for a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Two states for two peoples, that's a problem, Israel's Parliament speaker Reuven Rivlin, a deputy of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, told Israel Radio.
In the West Bank, a Jewish settlement official on Monday said contractors had taken steps to begin expanding the enclave of Maskiot in the Jordan river valley with the addition of 20 homes. He said a decision in principle to go ahead was made last year by Israel's Defense Ministry.
Commenting on differences with Obama over a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Arad said Israel was confident that a sense of pragmatism and the desire for progress will drive the discussion.
Playing down prospects for a confrontational meeting, an Obama aide said about the statehood issue, The president does not believe it's going in a bad direction.
In a message he is likely to repeat at the White House, Netanyahu has said Arab concern over a nuclear Iran presented an unprecedented opportunity to pursue regional peace between Israel and Muslim states.
Obama wants progress on the Israeli-Palestinian track as a means of convincing moderate Arab states to join a united front against Iran.
Asked at a news briefing on Sunday whether Netanyahu would utter the phrase two states for two peoples at the White House, Arad did not answer and walked away.
With Hamas Islamists in charge of the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu has said peace efforts with Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should concentrate on economic, security and political issues, which he did not define.
Palestinians reject that approach.