Obama to Visit Israel in Spring

Washington (AP/Hamodia) -

President Barack Obama will visit Israel and Jordan in the spring, the White House said Tuesday, marking his first visit since becoming president.

Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu discussed the visit to Israel by phone in late January, when Obama congratulated Netanyahu on his success in Israel’s recent election.

The White House has not released the date of Obama’s trip or details about the itinerary, but Israeli media said that a visit had been scheduled for March 20, and would include Ankara, Riyadh, Cairo and Ramallah. CIA teams are reportedly already in Israel to coordinate the security aspects of the three-day visit.

The Prime Minister’s Office in Yerushalayim also confirmed the report.

“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 National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said during Obama’s visit to Jordan and Yehuda and Shomron, the president would work closely with Palestinian Authority and Jordanian officials on regional issues.

Although Obama visited Israel and Jordan while running for president in 2008, he hasn’t been back since, drawing intense criticism from some pro-Israel groups who have claimed he is insufficiently supportive of the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East. Other top administration officials, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have visited.

Now that Obama is expected in Israel, it is less likely that Netanyahu will travel to Washington for the annual AIPAC policy conference in early March, an opportunity Israeli prime ministers usually use to meet with the U.S. president, The Jerusalem Post observed.

Tzipi Livni, a constant critic of Netanyahu for allegedly “poisoning ties” with the U.S., issued a statement welcoming the visit, and said she hoped Netanyahu and Obama would re-start the diplomatic process.