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N.J. Gov. Christie in Israel on 1st official overseas trip

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JERUSALEM — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie kicked off his first official overseas trip Monday, meeting Israel's leader in a visit that may boost the rising Republican star's foreign policy credentials ahead of November's presidential election.

Christie, 49, is mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate in 2012 and a possible presidential candidate in 2016. He has brushed aside repeated feelers from top Republican donors about entering this year's presidential race.

Christie's Israel visit could raise speculation that he is positioning himself for a future run, and his trip will be watched by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Israel is a popular stop for American politicians on the rise seeking to bolster their international credibility while also appealing to Jewish constituents.

There was "never any question about where we were coming first," Christie said to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of their meeting.

He will travel to Jordan later this week for talks with King Abdullah II.

Christie endorsed Mitt Romney's bid for president in October, ending months of speculation over whether he would run. He hasn't said yet whether he'll seek re-election as governor next year, leaving the door open to a vice presidential bid. He is consistently rumored to be on Romney's short list.

Christie's trip, billed "Jersey to Jerusalem," is a trade and diplomacy mission, according to his office. the meeting with Netanyahu was the first in a series of talks with senior Israeli business and political leaders, including President Shimon Peres on Tuesday.

Christie's spokeswoman, Maria Comella, said the governor had an "engaging, conversational meeting" with Netanyahu in which "both had the opportunity to get to know each other."

Comella rejected suggestions that Christie was laying the groundwork for a bid for the vice presidency this year or the presidency in 2016. She said it's "a common tradition for New Jersey governors to go to Israel" because of the state's economic links to Israel. She also noted New Jersey's cultural ties with Israel because of the state's large Jewish population.

Christie is traveling with his family and a delegation of 13 business and religious leaders. While in Israel, he plans to tour a pharmaceutical facility with an interest in expanding to the U.S., participate in a business round-table and visit a school.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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