White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed a report coming out of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office that U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Israel next month.
Israel’s Channel 10 is reporting Obama will be in Israel on March 20, and will also visit Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, as well as the Palestinian Territories. This will be his first visit to Israel as president; he previously visited while campaigning for the presidency in 2008.
This will be Obama’s fourth visit to the Middle East, having previously visited Afghanistan three times, as well has visiting Iraq, Turkey and Saudi Arabia in 2009.
Carney said Obama and Netanyahu first discussed the visit last week. The two leaders, both recently re-elected, have a contentious relationship, and disagree strongly over what to do about Iran’s nuclear program and how to handle the question of the Palestinian Authority.
Netanyahu’s office said that he and Obama “spoke about a visit by the president to Israel after a new government is formed in Israel, and the two agreed that such a visit would be an important opportunity to emphasize the friendship and strong partnership between Israel and the United States.”
Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement, “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.”
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If March 20 is confirmed as Obama’s date of arrival, he’ll be coming a few days after the deadline when the Knesset, Israel’s Congress, must form its new coalition government. What is still up in the air is whether Obama will skip Israel on his trip if the new government has not been formed.
“There are reports here in Israel saying he’s not going to come if there’s no coalition in place,” said Jonny Daniels, a political consultant for the Likud party. “He wants to be here and start pushing for new peace talks.”
Daniels said there was no doubt in his mind there would be talks about Iran, Syria, and a reinvestment in the two-state solution.
“I don’t see any surprise in him coming straight after the coalition talks to try to twist our arms a little bit and push us in a certain direction,” Daniels continued. “I don’t think that’s going to help.”
New U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, whose first day of work was Monday, also announced last week that his first official trip will be to the Middle East, including stops in Israel and Egypt.