Israel PM to visit US, meet Obama in March
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Washington on March 2 where he is to discuss Iran and the peace process with US President Barack Obama, his office said Monday.
The visit will take place as US Secretary of State John Kerry seeks to forge a framework agreement which will keep Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at the table beyond a looming April deadline, despite little outward sign of any progress to date.
"The prime minister will be going to the United States on March 2 for the annual meeting of AIPAC in Washington," an official in Netanyahu's office told AFP, referring to a powerful pro-Israel lobby group.
"He is also expected to meet President Obama, and after that he will fly to Los Angeles for meetings," he said.
The trip was expected to focus heavily on US efforts to drive forward Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and a global attempt to reach a comprehensive accord with Iran to roll back its disputed nuclear programme.
"PM Netanyahu will meet with President Obama next month. Will discuss ways to prevent Iran from producing nukes as well as ways to advance peace with the PA (Palestinian Authority)," his spokesman Ofir Gendelman wrote on Twitter.
Israel and the Palestinians embarked on a nine-month track of direct peace talks in July 2013, with Kerry investing huge efforts to keep them on track, despite multiple setbacks and little visible sign of progress.
With the April 29 deadline on the horizon, Kerry is trying to hammer out a framework agreement to guide the talks forward.
Quoting a senior Israeli official, Haaretz newspaper said Netanyahu and Obama would meet at the White House on March 3 for talks on the framework agreement which is supposed to permit the negotiations to continue to the end of 2014.
Competing agendas: Iran versus peace talks
Israel's top-selling Yediot Aharonot said Netanyahu, who was also expected to meet with Kerry, would try to focus the talks on Iran, while Obama was expected to push the issue of the peace talks.
"Netanyahu will seek to focus on the Iranian issue in his meeting with Obama, and to express concern regarding the collapse of the sanctions against Iran and the inclination of various states in the West to return to doing business with Tehran," it said.
"Obama is expected to have the meeting focus on the issue of the negotiations with the Palestinians, and on the framework document that Secretary Kerry is due to submit next month."
So far, the US-led talks have been overshadowed by a number of public disputes, notably over Israel's ongoing settlement construction and Netanyahu's insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state.
Since the talks began, Israel has advanced plans for more than 11,700 new settler homes, including 4,500 in annexed east Jerusalem, according to figures from settlement watchdog Peace Now.
Disillusioned, the Palestinians have said they would not countenance any extension of the April deadline and would instead seek further international recognition, a step which they agreed to suspend for the duration of the talks.
Israel, however, insists that it made no commitment to halt settlement construction during the negotiations.
Netanyahu and Obama will also discuss talks between the P5+1 group of world powers which are trying to thrash out a permanent deal to curb Iran's nuclear programme, building on an landmark interim agreement signed in Geneva in November.
The Israeli leader last visited the White House in September 2013 for talks squarely focused on Iran.
Netanyahu fought a major diplomatic campaign against the Geneva accord, which saw Iran agreeing to roll back part of its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief, saying it had gifted Tehran the "deal of the century".
Israel and much of the West believe Iran's civilian nuclear programme is a cover for building a military capability, a charge which the Islamic republic has repeatedly denied.
The Israeli leader has long warned that a nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat to the Jewish state, and has refused to rule out a military strike to prevent that from happening.
Following his meeting with Obama, Netanyahu is to address the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee before heading to California.
There he was expected to hold meetings with hi-tech business leaders in Silicon Valley and participate in events in Los Angeles to promote tourism to Israel.