The White House held a conference call on Thursday to discuss President Obama's trip to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, which will take place from March 19 to March 23. The participants in the call were Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes and the United States Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro. Also, dozens of White House reporters listened or asked questions, including the National White House Examiner.
This will be President Obama's first trip to Israel since becoming President, and the first foreign trip of his second term in office. With a new Israeli government coming into place and a new U.S. term here, Ben Rhodes said that "this is an important opportunity for the President to consult with the Israeli government on the broad range of issues where we cooperate."
United States Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, said that there is a high level of excitement concerning the trip by the Israeli people. "I have to say we in our embassy in Tel Aviv have really been struck by the excitement that the Israelis are feeling about this visit. Part of it is the historic nature. Any visit of a President to Israel is historic."
Despite what many think, a Presidential trip to Israel is not a routine event. "Only four other Presidents have ever visited here, and President Obama is the fifth. And so there's a sense that a visit of the President of the United States is a big deal."
Ambassador Shapiro added, "And you can see that excitement in the kind of conversations people are having and the kind of way that the issue is discussed in the media and on the street. And you can see the evidence on the embassy Facebook page, where hundreds, if not thousands, of Israelis are competing for some tickets to hear his speech at the Convention Center."
"I think part of the excitement stems from seeing very much in the same terms that we do; it's a manifestation of the close, enduring and warm ties between our two democracies, countries that share common interests and common values. And it's a reaffirmation of our commitments to each other, including the United States' strong, really unbreakable commitment to Israel's security," said Ambassador Shapiro.
Ben Rhodes said that some of the issues will be "our efforts to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, the ongoing situation in Syria, the developments in the wider region that pose both opportunities and security challenges, and efforts to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace." Rhodes called it an opportunity for the President to speak directly to the Israeli people.
Rhodes also emphasized that the president will "reinforce U.S. support for the Palestinian Authority."
President Obama will also visit Jordan and said that "King Abdullah is a very close ally and partner of the United States and Jordan. We cooperate with Jordan on a broad range of security issues. That includes, of course, the peace process. It also includes addressing the very grave humanitarian crisis in Syria, including the significant refugee population within Jordan. And the U.S. is providing substantial assistance to Jordan and other international partners to help allay that refugee crisis."
Rhodes added that "We're also very supportive of the political reform efforts within Jordan."
The President will arrive in Israel on Wednesday, March 19 and will begin his program with an arrival ceremony at the airport with both President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel. Following that arrival ceremony, where each of the leaders will speak, the President will view an Iron Dome battery.
"The U.S. investments in support for the Iron Dome System has been one of the clearest manifestations of our support for Israel and its security. We’re very proud that the Iron Dome System has saved numerous Israeli lives in helping to deal with the threat from rocket fire. The President's visit to the Iron Dome battery, again, is a signal of that continued support for Israel and its security, and the close relationship and partnership that we have on the security issues," said ben Rhodes.
On Thursday, March 20, President Obama will begin by going to the Israel Museum. At the Israel Museum, he will view the Dead Sea Scrolls.
President Obama will also travel to Ramallah. In Ramallah, he will have a bilateral meeting with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. And then the two leaders will have a press conference and then they’ll have a working lunch together. Again, the United States has supported the significant institution-building that the Palestinian Authority has undertaken in the West Bank. It’s a chance to discuss our continued support for the PA, as well as to discuss ways to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace going forward.
President Obama will deliver a speech to the Israeli people and welcomes the "opportunity to speak not just to Israelis, but to Israeli young people, so we've worked to help build a crowd that will bring in a significant number of Israeli university students from the many universities that our embassy partners with within Israel."
"The President's speech I think will focus on the nature of the ties between the United States and Israel, the broad agenda that we work on together on security, on peace, on economic prosperity. And I think he'll have a chance to speak to the future of that relationship, so discussing not just the nature of the challenges that we face today, but where the United States and Israel are working to move together as we head into the future of the 21st century," Rhodes said about the speech President Obama will deliver to the Israeli people.
Ben Rhodes was asked about the Iran threat to Israel in devoloping nuclear weapons. A reporter asked "to what extent, if any, will the President go further in establishing a kind of red line that Prime Minister Netanyahu is looking for?"
Rhodes said that "our red line is that we will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. The President has made clear -- publicly and privately." Rhodes emphasized that the Obama Administration "rejects the policy of containment, because of the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran for Israel, for the region, for the nonproliferation regime, and for the world. He has made clear that we will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and that means we’re looking at all options, including military options."
However, Rhodes added that "it’s preferable to solve the issue peacefully, both because diplomacy can yield a more lasting solution if you can get an assurance that a program -- a nuclear program is for peaceful purposes." Rhodes warned that military action has "costs."
In explaining the approach, Rhodes said that "there’s a window to resolve this diplomatically. We have the world united in putting in place the toughest sanctions Iran has ever faced. We have a P5-plus-1 process where we’re currently in discussions with the Iranians about their nuclear program. And so we want to use the time and space that we have available and the pressure that we’ve applied on the Iranian government to reach a peaceful, diplomatic solution."
Returning to the military option, Rhodes said "The Iranian government should know from the President’s public comments already that he’s serious about preventing them from getting a nuclear weapon, that he does not make those assurances -- and very public assurances -- without a commitment to follow through on them. He’s done what he says he will do in the past on national security issues, and he certainly would in this instance."
Ben Rhodes was asked about "the Israeli-Palestinian question."
"We believe it's in our interest, it's in Israel's interest, it's in the Palestinian interest and the world's interest, frankly, for there to be two states -- Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security," said Rhodes. "So the U.S. will always continue to be engaged in this process in terms of trying to move it forward. And we have been in the past. We've taken a range of steps. We sought to bring the parties together in direct negotiations. We've put forward some U.S. principles on security in territory, and we've sought to help the parties as they built confidence and create an environment for talks. And we'll continue with our efforts going forward."
The First Lady will not be on this trip and Rhodes also said that Secretary of State John Kerry will be on various parts of the trip, in response to a question.
Kerry will be "accompanying us in each of the three stops in Israel and the West Bank and Jordan; expect that he will be with the President in most, if not all, of his meetings, certainly in line with the type of role that Secretary Clinton played on similar trips where she accompanied the President."
"Secretary Kerry just returned from a very long trip to the region. He obviously did not go to these three stops because he anticipated that he’d be going with the President. But he was able to consult with a number of the other leaders in Europe, in Turkey, in the Arab world, and had a sense of the broader context for some of the discussions the President will have. So this trip will continue Secretary Kerry’s focus on the Middle East and his deep engagement with the leaders in the region," said Rhodes concerning Secretary Kerry's role on the trip.
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John is the author of an award-winning book, the 2010 Winner of the USA National Best Book award for African American studies, published by The Elevator Group, Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots. Also available an eBook on Amazon. John is also a member of the Society of Midland Authors and is a book reviewer of political books for the New York Journal of Books . John has volunteered for many political campaigns.