The White House said on Wednesday that U.S. President Barack Obama, who will be visiting Israel next month, does not plan on bringing a new peace initiative with him to the region.
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Obama will be making his first trip to Israel since taking the office in 2009.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a briefing to reporters on Wednesday that Obama's trip is not connected to any restarting of Middle East peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
During the briefing, Carney was asked whether Obama, during his trip, would press Israel to halt settlement construction. Carney did not answer the question, saying only that the U.S. president expects to discuss with Israeli leaders the issues of a nuclear Iran and the situation in Syria, adding that at this stage, it was too early to know exactly what would happen at the meeting, which would take place in a few weeks.
National Security Adviser Ya'akov Amidror and Isaac Molho, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's special emissary, will be traveling to Washington D.C. next week for preparatory talks ahead of Obama's visit to Israel, which is scheduled for March 20th. Amidror is expected to meet with Tom Donilon, his U.S. counterpart, in order to coordinate the visit's timetable and the issues that will be discussed. Molho will join in on some of these discussions, and will be holding separate meetings with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other top officials, which will focus on the topic of rekindling negotiations with the Palestinians.
The U.S. president's visit is expected to take place after the new Israeli government is already formed. The assumption is that this will happen by mid-March, and a likely date for the visit is March 21. According to a senior Israeli official, the visit may be postponed until after Passover if the coalition-building process is delayed.
Repairing brittle relations?
According to a White House official, Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the visit in a telephone call on January 28.
"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," the official said.
"Additional details about the trip - including the dates of travel - will be released at a later time," the official said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that while he is here, Obama will also visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan.
He is due to be preceded by his new secretary of state, John Kerry, who is slated to travel to Israel, the PA and Egypt in about 10 days' time. But it is possible Kerry will delay his visit and come with Obama instead.
Obama's decision to visit so early in his second term is somewhat surprising , both because of his famously tense relationship with Netanyahu and because White House officials had previously said he would visit only if he thought doing so would help to advance the peace process.