White House Downplays Expectations of Obama Visit

YERUSHALAYIM -

After talk of an “urgent agenda” for President Obama’s visit to Israel in the spring, U.S. officials were working at reducing expectations and anxieties on Thursday.

Ambassador Dan Shapiro redefined the visit as a display of the close ties between the two countries, according to The Jerusalem Post.

A breakthrough in Mideast peacemaking “is not the purpose of this visit,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney, adding that Obama would not be bringing a new peace plan with him.

Shapiro also dismissed speculation on Wednesday of a hidden political agenda in the form of influencing the Israeli government coalition talks.

“Obviously we don’t play a role and have no intention of interfering in Israeli coalition negotiations,” Shapiro told the Post, responding to claims that the American president  might aiming for more liberal figures, such as Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, to join the government.

One Israeli government official agreed with Shapiro, saying it was “provincial” to think that the U.S. president’s decision to go to Amman, Yerushalayim and Ramallah might be geared to getting his political preferences in the next government.

“I don’t think he thinks in those terms,” the official said.

Danny Ayalon, who recently stepped down as Israel’s deputy foreign minister, said that the altered political configuration in the country was cause for cautious optimism.

“The next government may have more wiggle room because of the coalition,” Ayalon said.

Although details of Obama’s visit have not been made public yet officially, Ayalon said that the president intends to hold a joint meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Arutz Sheva reported. He said a meeting of the three together was already in the works.

The last time Obama came to the Middle East, he skipped Israel altogether. This time, Obama seems to be trying to “correct his error by visiting Israel first when he comes to the Middle East,” Ayalon stated. “The purpose of the visit, it appears to me, is to restore the United States to its chief role in the Mideast peace process.

“After the polite talk, Obama and Bibi will get down to cases,”Ayalon continued; specifically “joint actions to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, the neutralization of the major threats against Israel in the wake of the fall of Bashar al-Assad and the unrest in the Arab world, and restoring the peace process. These are the three topics the two will speak about, in the order of their importance,” he predicted.

Although the White House claims that it has nothing “special” planned for this trip, “when the leader of the most powerful country in the world leaves his country for a visit abroad, it’s logical to expect that some understandings are already in place. There is no doubt that at this moment there is active and spirited discussion on a Netanyahu-Abbas-Obama summit, that perhaps even King Abdullah of Jordan will attend as well.

“The news of the visit even while coalition talks are going strong, shows that the world is not waiting for us,” Ayalon added.