President Barack Obama plans to visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan this spring, the White House said on Tuesday, raising the prospects of a new U.S. push to restart long-stalled Israel-Palestinian peace efforts.
Obama’s trip, his first to Israel since taking office, signaled that he intends to make the volatile Middle East - where Iran remains locked in a nuclear standoff with the West and Syria is caught up in a bloody civil war - a top priority in his second term.
While the White House gave no exact dates for the trip, Israel’s Channel 10 television station cited unnamed sources in Washington saying Obama would visit the Jewish state on March 20.
The choice of Israel for Obama’s first foreign travel since his Jan. 21 inauguration will give the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a chance to repair their notoriously fractious relationship and seek common ground on confronting the region’s troubles.
Netanyahu is now occupied with the task of forging a new governing coalition after center-left challengers made surprising gains in last month’s elections, something that Obama’s aides believe could strengthen his hand with the hawkish prime minister.
Obama and Netanyahu discussed the president’s coming trip in a Jan. 28 telephone call, the White House and the Israeli prime minister’s office said.
“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,” the White House said.
Netanyahu’s office said only that the leaders had discussed a visit timed for after the formation of a new Israeli government.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama would also visit the West Bank to meet Palestinian leaders and travel to Jordan, considered a linchpin in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, to “discuss bilateral and regional issues of mutual interest.”