President Barack Obama will bring an “urgent” agenda to Israel on his upcoming visit, focusing on regional developments including Iran and Syria as well as the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro said Wednesday.
Shapiro spoke a day after the White House announced Obama will visit Israel and Jordan in the spring.
“We have a very urgent agenda,” Shapiro told Army radio. “He (Obama) wanted in his first trip of his second term to speak with the prime minister about this urgent agenda, about Iran, about our joint efforts to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons and stop its support of terrorism. And about Syria, the dangers in Syria and how to prevent … the chemical weapons from falling into dangerous hands,” Shapiro said.
“We have a very complex agenda about Iran, Syria and the need to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, so it’s important to begin as fast as possible,” he added.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said he welcomes the visit, which he hopes will result in the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Shapiro said that Obama will meet during his visit the Palestinian leadership in Yehudah and Shomron along with the King of Jordan, who has had a role in peacemaking efforts.
“President Obama is not coming with conditions or demands. He is coming to confer with all our partners about problems and challenges we are dealing with in the region,” Shapiro told Israel radio.
He said that Obama isn’t “seeking a specific result” but wants to confer about ways of “bringing Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiation table.”
Shapiro shrugged off questions about relations between Obama and Netanyahu. “The personal chemistry between them is excellent. They know how to work together,” he said.
Communication with the Israeli public is also on the agenda.
“Obama knows that he’s going to have a lot of conversations with Netanyahu this year,” said David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Those conversations will be easier conversations if Obama connects with the Israeli public and demonstrates what he believes, which is that he has their back.”
Meanwhile on Wednesday, acting Knesset head Binyamin (Fouad) Ben-Eliezer (Labor) asked Netanyahu to invite Obama to address the Knesset during his visit.
“I believe that this act, of a direct address to Israel in the Knesset assembly… during this visit, specifically, would carry tremendous importance,” Ben-Eliezer said.
MK Reuven Rivlin, speaker of the last Knesset, agreed. “The Knesset is the arena of debate and decision-making, and as such is the only place to present diplomatic initiatives and any process with serious implications for the state of Israel,” he said.
“An appeal to the Israeli public, even from heads of friendly countries, should be made from the Knesset podium,” he said. Members of the Knesset “will doubtless know how to show respect,” he added.