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Obama starts first presidential visit to Israel

March 20, 2013|By Christi Parsons

President Obama arrived in Tel Aviv on Wednesday for his first presidential visit to Israel, hoping to reassure the Israeli people of his commitment to their security and to tend his personal relationships with key leaders.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres were on hand at Ben Gurion International Airport for an official arrival ceremony that included a salute by the Israeli military.
After the three leaders deliver remarks, Obama will visit a battery of the Pentagon-backed Iron Dome air defense system, which intercepts rockets aimed at Israel. Aides say Obama wants to signal continued support for military cooperation with Israel.
Later Wednesday, Obama is scheduled to travel to Peres’ official residence in Jerusalem to discuss regional security issues, including the civil war in Syria, as well as the possibility of restarting moribund peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. 

PHOTOS: Obama’s trip to Israel

Peres is expected to raise the case of Jonathan Pollard, an American intelligence analyst sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted in 1987 of passing reams of classified defense material to the Israelis. Peres has previously asked Obama to grant clemency to the Israeli spy.
Aides to the president say he will hear Peres out but believes the U.S. justice system is responsible for reviewing Pollard’s case and deciding on his release.
Obama also will visit Netanyahu at the prime minister's residence for a private meeting and working dinner. At the top of the agenda is the status of efforts to curb the Iranian nuclear program.
In talks last month in Kazakhstan, the United States and five other powers offered concessions to Iran if it would agree to suspend uranium enrichment at an underground facility known as Fordo. Iran did not agree, but another round of talks is scheduled on April 5-6.
Obama has said U.S. policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb. He said last week that U.S. authorities believe Tehran is probably a year away from building a bomb if its leaders decide to do so, a long enough time frame to trigger U.S. intervention.
Netanyahu, who last fall warned that Iran could build a bomb by this spring or summer, is expected to pressure Obama to place greater urgency on the threat. The two leaders will take questions from journalists after they meet.
The evening closes with a private dinner between Obama and Netanyahu. The pair have clashed in the past, but Obama insists they can still make progress together.

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