Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to stress the significance of
putting Iran back on the top of the international agenda in his White House
meeting with US President Barack Obama on Friday.
The two leaders are
also expected to address the wide range of regional issues confronting their
countries – from the Arab uprisings to the killing of Osama bin Laden to the
stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process – but that very full plate of topics
has pushed Iran off the front burner, to the concern of many in
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Though Israel is aware that the United States still sees
preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons as a crucial issue, Jerusalem
would like to see the US and the international community return more attention
to Tehran’s nuclear program.
The US has already indicated that it is also
looking to raise the profile of the Iranian threat, with National Security
Adviser Tom Donilon using a speech last Thursday to link bin Laden’s killing
with US action on Iran.
“The quiet and determined pursuit of bin Laden is
not the only example of how President Obama matches his words with action. This
is also the case with respect to Iran,” Donilon told the Washington Institute
for Near East Policy. “President Obama has long understood the regional and
international consequences of Iran becoming a nuclear weapons state. That is why
we are committed to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.”
underscored the commitment on Iran with the long-term focus on getting bin Laden
by declaring, “We do what we say we will do.”
Statements such as
Donilon’s have given comfort to Israeli actors that believe Washington and Jerusalem are
on the same page on most major issues, and that tensions evident between the two
leaders in past encounters will be less a factor in this visit.
Israeli perspective, even the divisive issue of how to deal with the
Palestinians has been diminished as the recent Fatah-Hamas unity deal has
provoked US skepticism about the prospect of peacemaking and the American
president waits to see how Palestinian behavior on the ground
Netanyahu spent Wednesday making final preparations for his
flight on Thursday evening to Washington, meeting with Likud ministers
throughout the day to, as one aide said, “share his thoughts with them, and hear
what they have to say.”
He told the group of 15 Likud ministers and MKs
that his definition of settlement blocs was broad. MK Danny Danon complained
about the prime minister’s speech to the Knesset on Monday in which he said he
said there was a consensus in Israel about maintaining settlement blocs and
implied that he might not keep settlements outside the blocs.
Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat asked Netanyahu to raise the fate of
Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard in his meeting with Obama, Netanyahu said the
case of Pollard “pained his heart.”
Netanyahu is schedule to leave for
the US late on Thursday night, a number of hours after President Barack Obama
delivers his speech on the Middle East.
He is scheduled to meet Obama on
Friday morning at 11:15 for an hour, and then they will meet the press for 10
minutes for joint statements. No questions from journalists are scheduled to be
After that the two men are scheduled to have a working
Obama is then scheduled to address the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee on Sunday morning at 10:30, with Netanyahu addressing the
gathering on Monday evening at 9 p.m. Washington time.
The next morning
at 11, Netanyahu is scheduled to address a special joint session of Congress.
Netanyahu, according to government sources, is working on the congressional
speech with his senior adviser Ron Dermer. That speech, the sources said, will
be the centerpiece of the visit, with the prime minister widely expected to tell
Obama at their meeting what he intends to say.
Netanyahu is also expected
during his visit to Washington to meet with other senior US administration
officials, as well as the congressional leadership, with whom he will meet on
Efforts by Netanyahu to travel to Ottawa on the way back home
and meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who just won a resounding victory
in the recent Canadian elections and is considered one of Israel's best friends
in the world, fell through because of “logistical reasons,” government sources
In a related development, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg
is to head the US delegation holding the annual strategic dialogue with Israel
in Jerusalem on Thursday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon will head
the Israeli delegation in the discussions.
Steinberg, accompanied by
Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, met
with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday in Ramallah and
discussed the diplomatic process and the changes in the region.
Hoffman contributed to this report.