President Barack Obama will visit Israel "in the spring" for the first time since taking office in January 2009, the White House said on Tuesday. Israeli media reports said the trip was set for March 20. Possible military action against Iran and the crisis in Syria seem sure to top the agenda.
Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the possibility of a visit during a Jan. 28 telephone call, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. Carney said Obama would also visit Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and make a stop in Jordan, and that dates would be released later.
Obama visited Israel in July 2008, when he was running for office, but he has not been back since. Mitt Romney's presidential campaign—and Republicans in general—have sought to use that as a political weapon, suggesting it shows he's willing to shortchange the staunchest U.S. ally in the region. But both of George W. Bush's visits to Israel came in 2008, when his second term was nearly up, and Republican icon Ronald Reagan never went.
The visit will come as Obama and other world leaders, notably Netanyahu, have warned that time is running short for a diplomatic end to the tense standoff with Iran over that country's suspect nuclear program.
"When the president spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu on January 28, they discussed a visit by the president to Israel in the spring," Carney said. "The start of the president’s second term and the formation of a new Israeli government offer the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including Iran and Syria."