x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Obama to visit Israel, West Bank for the first time as US president

Iran, Syria and regional issues are expected to be on US president's agenda.

WASHINGTON // Barack Obama, the US president, will go to Israel in the spring, marking his first visit to the staunch US ally since becoming president. While in the region, Mr Obama will make stops in the West Bank and Jordan.

Mr Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, discussed the visit to Israel in late January, when Mr Obama congratulated Mr Netanyahu on his success in Israel's recent election. The White House has not released the date of Mr Obama's trip or details about Mr Obama's itinerary, but Israel's Channel 10 reported that the trip had been scheduled for March 20.

"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 the National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.

Mr Obama would work closely with Palestinian Authority and Jordanian officials on regional issues during his visit to Jordan and the West Bank, the White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Mr Obama's trip to Israel, coming shortly after the start of his second term, could offer an opportunity to repair a notoriously strained relationship with Netanyahu. But the trip is almost certain to raise expectations for the type of peace initiative that eluded Mr Obama and his foreign policy team during his first four years in office. Mr Obama has in the past warned against setting expectations too high for a breakthrough in stalled negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Although Mr 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 Mideast ally. Other top administration officials, including former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, have visited, and Mrs Clinton's replacement, John Kerry, is expected to travel to Israel on his first Middle East trip.