Updated with Statement by the Press Secretary on the Formation of Israel’s New Government
Administration officials outline President Obama's itinerary featuring talks with leaders, visits to iconic sites, symbols signaling political objectives for the region
President Obama's trip to Israel, Ramallah and Jordan next week will be highlighted by his opportunity to speak directly to the Israeli youth, during a speech to be delivered from the Convention Center. Obama chose the venue rather than deliver a speech to the Knesset.
"This is a very important trip - his first to Israel as President and the first foreign trip of his second term in office," said Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor For Strategic Communications, speaking to reporters by telephone.
The timing is right for the president to visit the region - with the new government coming into place in Israel and a new presidential term here, "this is important opportunity to consult with Israeli government on broad range of issues where we cooperate" - including preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Syria, security challenges to Israel, and renewing efforts to further the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"This will be an opportunity for the President to speak directly to the Israeli people to say what guides his approach. He has an important record of support but there is no substitute for a president to go to Israel."
"It is also important to show support for the Palestinian Authority -the US has significant investment in Palestinian Authority and develop Palestinian institutions."
The President will also be visiting King Abdullah of Jordan, "a close ally. The US is providing substantial assistance to allay Jordan's refugee crisis and discuss the recent Parliamentary elections. The President wants forward momentum on the King's agenda."
The President will arrive in Israel on Wednesday, and will begin program with arrival ceremony with President Shimon Perez and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama will review an Iron Dome battery, "the clearest evidence" of US investment and support of Israel's security, "which has saved numerous Israeli lives. The President's visit is a signal of continued support for Israel."
The President will meet first with President Perez at his residence, "a chance to spend time together," then go to Prime Minister Netanyahu's residence for a bilateral meeting, press conference and working dinner.
"The President and Netanyahu have spent more time one on one than with ny other leader since he came into office." They will discuss security, political and economic issues.
The President's second day, Thursday, will begin with a visit to Israel Museum to view the Dead Sea Scrolls, "a testament to the ancient Jewish connection to Israel and frankly a marvel that Israelis have restored within the Israel Museum in a substantial and impressive way. The President looks forward to seeing it."
The President also will visit the technology exposition at the museum, "to see remarkable signs of technological progress in Israel and the tech innovation that is fueling Israeli economy and the global economy and is a basis for Israel-US economic ties."
Obama will then travel to Ramallah, on the West Bank, where he will have bilateral meeting with President Abbas; the two leaders will hold a press conference and have a working lunch.
"The US has supported the significant institution-building of the Palestinians, and the leaders will discuss continuing support for the Palestinian Authority, and ways to support the peace process going forward."
President Obama will have this opportunity to see firsthand the work being done to develop institutions on the West Bank, and to meet with a range of Palestinian young people and hear directly from them when he joins Palestinian authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at a youth center.
Obama will return to Israel that afternoon to deliver a speech to the Israeli people at the Jerusalem International Convention Center to address "the nature of US-Israel ties, the broad agenda we work on together, on security, peace, economic prosperity and have chance to speak to the future of that relationship - not just the challenges face today but where US and Israel are working together in 21st century.
"Frankly the President wanted an opportunity to speak not just to Israelis but to young people." The US Embassy worked with various universities, and even held a Facebook competition to win tickets.
Later that night, President Obama will be hosted at dinner by President Perez. "Obama presented Perez with the Medal of Freedom at the White House, now he is looking forward to dinner with Perez and a broad range of prominent Israeli leaders.
He will begin Friday, his third day, at Mount Herzl, where he will lay a wreath at the graves of Theodor Herzl and Yitzhak Rabin - the significant contributions both played in Israeli's history. He also will visit Yad Vashem to lay a wreath and make remarks there, "marking the somber and powerful history of the Holocaust. The President was able to travel there in 2008 as Senator and was deeply moved; this is an opportunity mark that tragic element of our shared history."
The President will next travel to Bethlehem where will tour the Church of the Nativity. "Both are important sites on the West Bank, important to the Palestinian people and Christians in the region and around the world. It will be a powerful experience for president to tour the church, observing first-hand that history and experience."
This will conclude the president's time in Israel and West Bank.
The President will then travel to Jordan, where there will be an arrival ceremony that afternoon, a bilateral meeting with King Abdullah, a joint press conference. The President will be hosted at dinner, Saturday night in Amman.
The next morning the President will travel to Petra, "the site the Jordanian people are justly proud of. It will be an opportunity for the President to see something of great value to people across the region, particularly Jordan."
The agenda for discussions among the leaders is expected to cover regional security, the significant refugee challenge within Jordan, the Israel-Palestinian issue, and ongoing support for Jordan.
Dan Shapiro, the US Ambassador to Israel, offered a view of the President's visit from Tel Aviv: "We in our Embassy in Tel Aviv have been struck by the excitement that the Israelis are feeling about this. Part is historic -any visit of a President to Israel is historic. Only four presidents have visited, Obama is the fifth, so this is a big deal. You can see the excitement in conversations people are having - in media, on the street - and the evidence on the Embassy Facebook page - hundreds, if not thousands are competing for tickets to hear speech at convention center.
"Part of the excitement stems from seeing the manifestation of close, enduring, warm ties between our two democracies - common interests, common values, reaffirmation of commitment to each other - strong commitment to Israel's security. The people also realize that at time of uncertainty, change in region, there is great importance of leaders getting together and engage on critical issues - Iran and its nuclear aspirations, Syria, progress toward two-state peace process. It is also hopeful that consultations between the leaders early in their terms will set the course for progress.
A reporter noted that the Arab Spring shows Israel that it cannot depend on autocrats holding everything in the region. What message will the trip convey to successors to rulers in Egypt and other countries?
"Since the beginning of the Arab Spring and in his speech in May 2011, Obama made the point that as governments in the region are more responsive to popular opinion and aspirations of the people that will change the broader dynamic in the region - it is a good thing that people are expressing themselves in the region, making democratic progress," Rhodes said. "The US supports economic and political reform.
"Israel as it makes peace, will have to recognize the broader role of public opinion in peacemaking. In the past, the peace processes were between Israel and individual leaders; as they move toward more democratic, more representative and responsive government, Israel needs to take into account the changing dynamic and needs to reach out to the people, Israeli, Palestinian and the broader Arab world.
"With respect to Egypt, it's been clear with democratically elected government in Egypt that they need to hold to their responsibilities and political agreements including the peace treaty with Israel. There needs to be deeper support for peace across the region for progress. Part of the reason to move forward in pursuit of peace is to signal to people in the region a common purpose, so the issue doesn't continue to be a divisive one, but in Israel and the Arab world, people can see that peace is possible. That is the type of dynamic we want to support, where the people see the possibility."
Rhodes said that the administration is note expecting a "deliverable" from this trip.
"This visit is not about laying a new initiative or to complete all our work on a particular issue. There is value to traveling when there is a new government - in Israel and in the US - to have a broad strategic conversation. With a new government, we don't expect to close the deal on any one initiative, but we want to begin a broad conversation on all the issues on which we are cooperating on a day-to-day basis. will be conversations in months ahead on Iran, Syria, etc.
"Obama also feels it important to speak directly to the Israeli people, since he hasn't yet traveled there as president, - deepening relationships and supporting challenges we face down the line support and to reinforce the Palestinian Authority and King Abdullah and the domestic reforms [in those places] we support."
Asked to what extent the US might establish the so-called "red line" for Iran that Netanyahu has sought, Rhodes said, "The President feels he has been clear - our red line is that we won't allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. We reject the policy of containment because of the consequences of a nuclear armed Iran for Israel, the region and the rest of world. We will do what needs to be done to prevent a nuclear Iran - all options including military are on the table. The president has been clear on a red line and his approach to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
"We believe it is preferable to solve problems peaceably- you can look at the extraordinary cost of military action. We believe there is a window to resolve this diplomatically. The world is united around the toughest sanctions ever put in place. We will use the time and space available, and pressure applied to the Iranian government to reach a solution. But the Iranian government should know from comments the President has made already, that he intends to follow through. We will do what we must as a country to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
Asked why the President has chosen to speak at the convention center rather than the Knesset - the Israeli's Parliament - as George W. Bush did in 2008, Rhodes said that the administration was given a range of options of where he could speak "and they did not express a preference.
"We told the Israeli government that the President was interested in speaking to the Israeli people, in particular, to young people. We obviously have deep respect for the Knesset as the seat of Israeli democracy - in the past, the President has made clear his attachment to the fact that Israel and US are democracies but in the past, he spoke to young people- in Cairo for example. in this instance, bring together university students from a broad range of Israeli society, allowing him to speak not just to the political leadership who he will be meeting personally but the Israeli people, and young people.
"The President is spending significant amount of time with Israel's political leadership, iconic cultural sites, but the speech is a moment will be in room with Israeli public - our priority for what would be the best venue. We know the crowd will represent a broad range of views in Israel, and welcome fact that Israel has broad range of views, a testament to the fact it is a democracy.
As for the visit to Jordan, Rhodes said, this is "an important stop. The President could have just gone to Israel and the West Bank but he felt it important to also visit Jordan, a key security partner on the Israel-Arab peace process, counter terrorism and other issues. The situation in Syria is obviously deeply concerning to us and Jordan is a key partner with the US on dealing with the refugee crisis.
"Jordan has a domestic reform process underway and we believe King Abdullah knows the need for reform will involve opening of political process. Parliamentary elections were a step but he needs to be follow through with a new government - there are many different models in many different countries. Ultimately reform is the path to lasting stability in terms of a government that is a partner to the US."
Asked whether the President "feels more freedom now that he doesn't have to face voters again on foreign policy, Rhodes said, "The President is going to be very focused on his agenda. He provided the outlines in his Inaugural and in the State of the Union: to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan - draw down the troops, make a determination of what kind of enduring commitment we will have 2014; nonproliferation, which could involve discussions with Russia, and which involves dealing with the challenges of North Korea. The president spoke with the new president of China, Xi Jinping;
"Iran is a critical foreign policy issue in second term - our commitment to prevent Iran getting nuclear weapon in second term is the strongest message we could send to advancing the agenda, as previous administrations have, we need to draw strong line on Iran, which is also important in order to reverse the tide of proliferation.
Beyond that in the Mideast, issues critical to second term include how to insure Israel's security in a very dangerous neighborhood; how to affect the trajectory of movements sweeping across the region, people will affect their outcome, but we have a stake in seeing democratic transitions are successful; that the situation in Syria is resolved and that Assad is removed from power and the violence ended, and in the Pacific, reevaluating security, support democratic transition in Burma, and the deepening US engagement in Asia-Pacific.
"But this trip is an opportunity to focus on a region."
Update: Statement by the Press Secretary on the Formation of Israel’s New Government
"The President congratulates the Israeli people, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the new members of the Prime Minister’s governing coalition on the successful formation of Israel’s new government. President Obama looks forward to working closely with the Prime Minister and the new government to address the many challenges we face and advance our shared interest in peace and security. The United States places a high value on its deep and enduring bonds with Israel and the Israeli people. The President looks forward to further strengthening those bonds when he travels to Israel next week to meet with Israeli officials and to speak directly with the Israeli people."
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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