White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington for talks with the U.S. President Obama on regional peace and security.
"On behalf of the President I am happy to extend an invitation to visit President Obama in the White House for a working meeting to discuss our shared security interests, as well as our close co-operation in achieving peace between Israel and its neighbors," Emanuel told Netanyahu at the prime minister's Jerusalem office.
Israeli sources said that Obama's snap decision to invite Netanyahu to Washington was an attempt to obliterate the memory of the two leaders' previous White House meeting in March, when reporters were barred and the White House did not release a joint photograph. The apparent contrast with Obama's warm and well-publicized meetings with Arab leaders in Washington was viewed in Israel as a deliberate snub.
The March meeting revealed serious differences of opinion between the two men, especially over Jewish construction in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu also failed to satisfy the U.S. with his answers to Obama's questions on final-status positions in the event of a peace deal with the Palestinians.
Israeli officials expect the upcoming meeting will include a photograph of the two leaders in the Oval Office and perhaps even a joint press conference.
The officials said Obama was keen to meet Netanyahu before Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas arrives in Washington in a few weeks. Israel thinks the White House will use the photo opportunity to forestall claims from Jewish groups and from within the Congress that Obama has shown a pro-Palestinian bias, they said.
Netanyahu's visit to Washington will be tacked on to the end of Netanyahu's previously scheduled trip to Canada. The prime minister will on Thursday fly to Paris for a meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which Israel was recently invited to join.
On Friday, he will arrive in Toronto for meetings with the local Jewish community and will observe the annual Walk With Israel parade on Sunday before flying to Ottawa, the Canadian capital, for a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday. He will then head to the United States.
In recent weeks, the White House has made great efforts to counter criticism of it stance aginst Israel. Last week, Obama met with Jewish congressmen to stress his commitment to Israel's security, while two key aides - Dennis Ross and Dan Shapiro - held similar talks with Jewish leaders. To show his commitment to Israel's security, Obama also approved additional funding for Israel's Iron Dome rocket defense system.
On Monday, Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, used two speeches in Washington to praise Netanyahu for his efforts to advance the peace process, such as the declaration of a 10-month freeze on construction in the settlements and the removal of some checkpoints in the West Bank.
Mitchell also said he believed Netanyahu capable of reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu on Tuesday made his first public comment on the nuclear fuel deal that Iran struck with Turkey and Brazil earlier this month, under which Iran would send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad in return for reactor fuel.
"This is a transparent Iranian exercise in deceit, whose purpose is to divert international public opinion from Security Council sanctions against Iran," he told the Knesset. "This is an empty offer, because Iran would retain enough uranium to produce a nuclear weapon."
However, he praised the Obama administration for its efforts to get the Security Council to pass a new sanctions resolution against Iran.
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