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Thu Dec 18 13:26:47 CAT 2014

Obama means business, says Netanyahu

Reuters | 11 February, 2013 00:06
US President Barack Obama (R) meets Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a
Image by: KEVIN LAMARQUE / REUTERS

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 meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"It is a very important visit that will emphasise the strong alliance between Israel and the US," Netanyahu said yesterday.

Netanyahu has had a testy relationship with Obama.

The White House announced on Tuesday that Obama plans to visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan this autumn, raising prospects of a new US push to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, which have been frozen for 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 cited unnamed sources in Washington last week as saying the visit to Israel would start on March 20.

At the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu put Iran at the top of his list of talking points with Obama. "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.

US-hosted negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed in September 2010 because of a dispute over Israeli settlement-building in the occupied West Bank, land captured in the 1967 failed invasion of Israel.

Palestinians want this land as part of a future state that includes Gaza and East Jerusalem.

The visit will take place only after Netanyahu puts together a new governing coalition following his narrower-than-expected victory in Israel's January 22 election.

Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, has begun talks with prospective political partners and still has up to five weeks in which to complete the process.

Citing the dangers Israel faces from the "earthquake that is happening around us", a reference to Arab upheaval in the region and the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, Netanyahu said Obama's visit was particularly important.

Obama's tensions with Netanyahu have been aggravated by the Israeli leader's demands for US "red lines" that Iran and its nuclear programme will not be allowed to pass - something Obama has resisted, though he has said military options are on the table if sanctions and diplomacy fail.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday that Tehran would not negotiate about its nuclear programme under pressure, only if its adversaries stopped "pointing the gun".

Iran dismisses Western suspicions that its nuclear programme is aimed at building weapons. Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal.

Netanyahu has insisted that he will stick to the red line laid down in September, when he told the UN that Iran should not have enough enriched uranium to make even a single nuclear warhead.

He gave a rough deadline of the middle of this year and Israeli political commentators have speculated that Obama's visit to Israel is to caution Netanyahu against a go-it-alone attack against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Obama visited Israel as a presidential candidate in 2008 but drew criticism for not going there in his first term.

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