US President Barack Obama’s itinerary shows his deep commitment to Zionism and to Israel as a Jewish state that is historically rooted in this region, Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael Oren told Channel 2 on Saturday night during its Meet the Press program.

“This will be Obama’s first trip outside the United States in his second term. Out of more than 190 countries around the world, he chose to come to us,” said Oren.

The ambassador took issue with Thomas Friedman’s latest column in the The New York Times in which the journalist said, “Obama could be the first sitting American president to visit Israel as a tourist.”

At a time when the region is burning, Obama comes to Israel with a message of deep support which is a testament to the strong bond between the two countries, Oren said.

“It is a message that will be heard both in Israel and the Middle East,” Oren said.

The Israeli public has yet to meet Obama face to face and one of the central goals of this visit is to establish that kind of connection, Oren said.

“[Obama] will visit the Shrine of the Book [at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem that houses] the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls, written more than 2,000 years ago by Jews in Hebrew in their homeland, the land of Israel, this sends a message to the world about the Jewish state’s deep roots in this region,” said Oren.

“This is not a country that fell from the sky after the Holocaust, this is a state that is truly rooted in the region, and is a permanent and legitimate,” Oren said.

Equally important, he said, is Obama’s scheduled stop at the Mount Herzl cemetery to lay a wreath at the grave of the fonder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl.

“It gives a significant endorsement to the Zionist idea,” Oren said.

While in Israel, the president will hold discussions with Israeli leaders on important topics, such as the stalled Israeli Palestinian negotiations.

Israel shares the Obama’s desire to to persuade Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table so that solution can be found for that allows for two states for two peoples, Oren said.

Obama would also talk with Israeli leaders about the threat of chemical weapons from Syria and Iran’s advancement toward the possession of nuclear weapons, Oren said.

In an interview with Channel 2 on Thursday night Obama said he believed that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in a year or more, but that a window of time still existed for diplomatic deterrence.

On Saturday night Oren told Channel 2 that only Israel could decide when to defend its citizens against a regional threat, and Obama recognizes this.

He also spoke of the importance of releasing Jonathan Pollard from a US jail where he is serving a life sentence for passing classified information to Israel, including with regard to an Iraqi nuclear reactor that Israel bombed in 1981.

“Pollard has paid a heavy price and we have taken responsibility and apologized.

The time has come for him to be released. Netanyahu will raise the issue with Obama and we hope he will be released soon,” Oren said.

In an interview with Channel 2 on Thursday night Obama said, “I have no plans for releasing Jonathan Pollard immediately, but what I am going to be doing is make sure that that he – like every other American who has been sentenced – is accorded the same kinds of review and same examination of the equities that any other individual would be provided [with].”

IDF reservists plan to deliver to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a letter on Sunday morning demanding Pollard’s release. They plan to give the same letter to President Shimon Peres as well as to the US Consulate in Jerusalem.

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