Obama going to Israel, first time as president

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will travel to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan this spring, the White House said Tuesday, amid signs the administration is interested in revisiting stalled Middle East peace talks. The trip would be Mr. Obama's first visit to Israel as president; he traveled there and to the West Bank as a presidential candidate in July 2008.

It comes as he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embark on new terms in office, amid renewed turbulence in the Middle East, and represents an opportunity to forge a different relationship. White House officials said Mr. Obama discussed the potential trip when he called Mr. Netanyahu on Jan. 28 to congratulate him on the Israeli election.

"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," said Tommy Vietor, the White House spokesman for the National Security Council.

No date for the trip has been announced, though Israeli media reported that Mr. Obama would arrive March 20.

The president also will travel to the West Bank and Jordan "to continue his close work with Palestinian Authority officials and Jordanian officials on bilateral and regional issues of mutual interest," White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

The visit comes as incoming Secretary of State John Kerry has expressed interest in reviving the peace talks, which largely stalled in 2010. Mr. Kerry, a Democratic former Massachusetts senator who started his new job this week, spoke over the weekend with Mr. Netanyahu, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He also suggested at his Senate confirmation hearing last month that the United States needed to find a "way forward" to a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

Analysts say Mr. Netanyahu was weakened by a January election that saw Israeli centrists gain seats in the Parliament, and that "could very well be the reason why they [administration officials] see this as an opportunity to at least go out and put a toe in the waters, to see whether that's going to make any difference in the otherwise-obstructionist attitudes on the part of the Netanyahu government," said Wayne White, a Middle East Institute scholar and former State Department policy and intelligence analyst.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu have had a frosty relationship since the president took a tough early stance in his first term against Israel's building of settlements in the predominantly Palestinian West Bank.

Political analysts suggested that the upcoming visit was critical to salvaging the relationship.



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