WASHINGTON - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet with U.S. President George Bush in Washington on June 19, according to an official White House announcement issued Thursday.
The two leaders will discuss regional developments, including the Arab peace initiative, the situation in the Palestinian Authority and efforts to thwart Iran's nuclear plans.
Olmert views the Washington trip as an opportunity to divert attention from his internal political troubles and shift the national focus to diplomatic efforts.
The visit is scheduled to take place only days after the second round of the Labor Party primaries and the presidential election. The prime minister hopes the meeting with Bush, who supported Olmert throughout the internal political crisis in Israel, will 're-launch' his leadership.
Advancing the diplomatic process, even superficially, will also help the Olmert keep Labor in the coalition.
Olmert has met twice with Bush since his election, in May and November of last year. Their first meeting was designed to allow the leaders to get acquainted and to discuss Olmert's convergence plan to unilaterally evacuate West Bank settlements, which has since been dropped.
The prime minister's second visit to the United States, in the wake of the Second Lebanon War, focused on changing the regional agenda as well as the Iranian nuclear issue.
The June meeting is set to address chances for promoting a "regional process" based on the Arab peace initiative, contacts between Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The meeting will also examine the possibility of renewing talks with Syria.
Olmert is set to meet with Abbas next week, and is expected to announce that Israel will ease restrictions on the Palestinians in the West Bank in advance of his visit to the U.S.
The Olmert-Bush meeting comes amid increasing tensions between Israel and the American administration due to Israel's refusal to agree to the U.S. benchmark plan, formulated by the U.S. security coordinator in the territories, General Keith Dayton.
Israeli and American delegations will also meet next week to discuss the Iranian threat. Israel's delegation will be headed by Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who heads Israel's strategic dialogue with the U.S., while the American delegation will be led by Under Secretary of State Nick Burns, who is in charge of the Iran portfolio for the Bush administration.
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