Efforts are underway to organize a rare, if not unprecedented, visit to Latin America by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in April, with travel to Mexico and Colombia aimed at bolstering economic and political ties with pro-American countries.
Netanyahu met last month in Davos with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. In June he met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Jerusalem. Both invited him to visit.
Colombia and Mexico, along with Peru and Chile, make up the Pacific Alliance free-trade bloc, which accounts for more than a third of Latin America’s gross domestic product and is seen in Jerusalem as having strong economic potential for Israel.
Israel is expected to be offered “observer” status in the alliance.
In addition, Peruvian President Ollanta Moises Humala is scheduled to visit here next week.
Government officials said that just as Netanyahu is interested in expanding economic ties with China, he sees great potential in expanding trade relations with Latin America. Both efforts are part of a policy of expanding and diversifying Israeli markets and avoiding dependence on one market – for example, Europe.
The Pacific Alliance countries are also important as a wedge in Latin America against Iranian influence. In December, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said during a meeting with visiting Guatemalan President Otto Fernando Perez Molina that Iran had terrorist bases in Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia.
Before going to Latin America, Netanyahu will be going to another venue where Israeli premiers do not often travel: the US West Coast.
It was announced on Monday that he is to fly to Washington on March 2 for meetings with US President Barack Obama, congressional representatives and administration officials. He will also address the annual policy conference of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
On March 4 he is to fly to Los Angeles to take part in the premier of CBS travel editor Peter Greenberg’s one-hour special Israel: The Royal Tour, which is part of a series the newsman is doing on tours of various countries led by their leaders. The next day Netanyahu is scheduled to fly to San Francisco for meetings in nearby Silicon Valley with hi-tech moguls before returning to Los Angeles for a gala event with Hollywood celebrities.
The prime minister told his Knesset faction Monday that the primary purpose of his visit to the US was Iran.
“Israel’s goal is to prevent Iran from manufacturing nuclear weapons,” he said.
He added that despite the interim agreement and talks with world powers, the Islamic Republic had not changed its overall polices. A week before talks are to begin in Vienna on a long-term agreement, Netanyahu said it must not be allowed to have any centrifuges and needed to dismantle its uranium enrichment capabilities.
Netanyahu said the second topic on the agenda during his trip to the US would be the diplomatic process with the Palestinians. He said his positions were clear: Any agreement must put an end to the conflict, the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, the Palestinians must give up the “right of return,” and Israel’s security needs had to be met.
He said the third purpose of his trip was economic – to encourage investment in Israel and partnering with Israeli companies. His fourth goal, he said, was to promote tourism.