TEL AVIV: Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the civil war in Syria and stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts will top the agenda of US President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.
“It is a very important visit that will emphasise the strong alliance between Israel and the United States,” Netanyahu, who has had a testy relationship with Obama, told his cabinet.
The White House announced on Tuesday that Obama plans to visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan this spring, raising prospects of a new US push to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts frozen for the past two years.
The White House gave no exact dates for the trip, Obama’s first to Israel since taking office.
Israel’s Channel 10 television station cited unnamed sources in Washington last week saying the visit to Israel would start on March 20.
In public remarks at the cabinet session, Netanyahu put Iran at the top of his list of talking points with Obama and referred only in general terms to peace efforts with the Palestinians, stopping short of setting a revival of bilateral negotiations as a specific goal of the visit.
“The president and I spoke about this visit and agreed that we would discuss three main issues ...Iran’s attempt to arm itself with nuclear weapons, the unstable situation in Syria ...and the efforts to advance the diplomatic process of peace between the Palestinians and us,” Netanyahu said.
Obama and Netanyahu discussed the coming trip in a Jan. 28 telephone call.
The visit will take place only after Netanyahu puts together a new governing coalition following his narrower-than-expected victory in Israel’s Jan. 22 election.
Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, has begun talks with prospective political partners and still has up to five weeks to complete the process.
Obama’s tensions with Netanyahu have been aggravated by the Israeli leader’s demands for US “red lines” on Iran’s nuclear programme — something the president has resisted.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Sunday that Tehran would not negotiate about its nuclear programme under pressure, and would talk to its adversaries only if they stopped “pointing the gun,” in a speech marking the 34th anniversary of 1979 Iran revolution.
Obama visited Israel as a presidential candidate in 2008 but drew Republican criticism for not travelling there in his first term.