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Obama to visit Israel for first time as president

- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 5, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Obama will visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan in the spring, the White House said Tuesday, marking his first visit since becoming president.

Mr. Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the visit to Israel by phone 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 his itinerary, but Israel's Channel 10 reported that a visit 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 National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said that during Mr. Obama's visit to Jordan and the West Bank, the president would work closely with Palestinian Authority and Jordanian officials on regional issues.

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 ally in the Middle East. Other top administration officials, including former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, have visited.

The trip could help repair Mr. Obama's tarnished image in Israel, where many view him as cold to the Jewish state. Israelis vividly remember Mr. Obama's decision not to visit when he stopped in neighboring Egypt early in his first term to deliver a speech.

"This country's commitment to Israel's security is unshakeable," Mr. Carney said last week. "It has been reflected in this administration's commitment to Israel's security, demonstrated by the very specific actions that are unprecedented that have been taken by this administration on behalf of Israel's security."

Mr. Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem had no immediate comment on the report of Mr. Obama's visit.

The announcement of Mr. Obama's visit comes at a time of uncertainty for Mr. Netanyahu, whose relationship with Mr. Obama was notoriously rocky during Mr. Obama's first term. Mr. Netanyahu emerged weakened from January's election but still is poised to remain prime minister if he can successfully build a governing coalition before a mid-March deadline.

• Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this article.

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