The Times West Virginian

Headline News

March 17, 2013

Aim: Keep Mideast troubles from boiling over

WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama steps into the Middle East’s political cauldron this coming week, he won’t be seeking any grand resolution for the region’s vexing problems.

His goal will be trying to keep the troubles, from Iran’s suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon to the bitter discord between Israelis and Palestinians, from boiling over on his watch.

Obama arrives in Jerusalem on Wednesday for his first trip to Israel as president. His first priority will be resetting his oft-troubled relationship with now-weakened Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and evaluating the new coalition government Netanyahu laboriously cobbled together.

The president also will look to boost his appeal to a skeptical Israeli public, as well as to frustrated Palestinians.

“This is not about accomplishing anything now. This is what I call a down payment trip,” said Aaron David Miller, an adviser on Mideast peace to six secretaries of state who is now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

For much of Obama’s first term, White House officials saw little reason for him to go to the region without a realistic chance for a peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinians. But, with the president’s one attempt at a U.S.-brokered deal thwarted in his first term and the two sides even more at odds, the White House has shifted thinking.

Officials now see the lowered expectations as a chance to create space for frank conversations between Obama and both sides about what it will take to get back to the negotiating table. The president will use his face-to-face meetings to “persuade both sides to refrain from taking provocative unilateral actions that could be self-defeating,” said Haim Malka, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The trip gives Obama the opportunity to meet Netanyahu on his own turf, and that could help ease the tension that has at times defined their relationship.

The leaders have tangled over Israeli settlements and how to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Netanyahu also famously lectured the president in front of the media during a 2011 meeting in the Oval Office, and later made no secret of his fondness for Republican challenger Mitt Romney in last year’s presidential campaign.

Beyond Mideast peace, the two leaders have similar regional goals, including ending the violence in Syria and containing the political tumult in Egypt, which has a decades-old peace treaty with Israel.

The president’s trip comes at a time of political change for Israel.

Netanyahu’s power was diminished in January elections, and he struggled to form a government. He finally reached a deal on Friday with rival parties, creating a coalition that brings the centrist Yesh Atid and pro-settler Jewish Home parties into the government and excludes the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties for the first time in a decade.

The coalition will be sworn in Monday, two days before Obama’s arrival.

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Saturday congratulated Israelis on their new government. He said the president looked forward to working closely with Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders to address common challenges and advance shared interests in peace and security in the region.

Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, acknowledged that with a new government, “you don’t expect to close the deal on any one major initiative.” But he said starting those conversations now “can frame those decisions that ultimately will come down the line.”

Among those decisions will be next steps in dealing with Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

Israel repeatedly has threatened to take military action should Iran appear to be on the verge of obtaining a bomb. The U.S. has pushed for more time to allow diplomacy and economic penalties to run their course, though Obama insists military action is an option.

The West says Iran’s program is aimed at developing weapons technology. Iran says its program is for peaceful energy purposes.

Another central difference between the allies on Iran is the timeline for possible military action.

Netanyahu, in a speech to the United Nations in September, said Iran was about six months away from being able to build a bomb. Obama told an Israeli television station this past week that the U.S. thinks it would take “over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon.”

Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., tried to play down any division on the Iranian issue ahead of Obama’s trip. He said Friday that “the United States and Israel see many of the same facts about the Iranian nuclear program and draw many similar conclusions.”

Obama’s visit to Israel may quiet critics in the U.S. who interpreted his failure to travel there in his first term as a sign that he was less supportive of the Jewish state than his predecessors. Republican lawmakers levied that criticism frequently during last year’s presidential campaign, despite the fact that GOP President George W. Bush did not visit Israel until his final year in office.

The centerpiece of Obama’s visit will be a speech in Jerusalem to an audience mainly of Israeli students. It’s part of the president’s effort to appeal to the Israeli public, particularly young people.

He will make several cultural stops, all steeped in symbolism, in the region. They include the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem; Mount Herzl, where he’ll lay wreaths at the graves of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, and Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister who was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist who opposed Rabin’s policy of trading land with the Palestinians for peace; and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a revered site for Christians.

In a sign of the close military ties between the U.S. and Israel, Obama will view an Iron Dome battery, part of the missile defense system the U.S. has helped pay for.

Traveling to the West Bank, Obama will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah. Obama and Fayyad will visit a Palestinian youth center, another attempt to reach the region’s young people.

Obama will make a 24-hour stop in Jordan, an important U.S. ally, where the president’s focus will be on the violence in neighboring Syria. More than 450,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan, crowding refugee camps and overwhelming aid organizations.

The White House said Obama had no plans to visit a refugee camp while in Jordan, though he will be discussing with government officials how the U.S. can increase its assistance.

In his talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah, Obama also will try to shore up the country’s fledgling attempts to liberalize its government and stave off an Arab Spring-style movement similar to the ones that have taken down leaders elsewhere in the region.

The president’s final stop will be in Petra, Jordan’s fabled ancient city.

———

Follow Julie Pace on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

———

Online:

White House: http://tinyurl.com/a9r3lej

 

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • Questions linger year after Boston Marathon bombs

    A surveillance video shows a man prosecutors say is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev placing a bomb near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, just yards from where an 8-year-old boy was killed when it exploded.

    April 15, 2014

  • Little sign of progress as Obama, Putin speak

    Speaking for the first time in more than two weeks, President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin showed little sign of agreement Monday, with the U.S. leader urging pro-Russian forces to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine and Putin denying that Moscow was interfering in the region.

    April 15, 2014

  • 3 dead after suburban Kansas City shooting

    A man opened fire outside a Jewish community center on Sunday, killing two people before driving over to a retirement community a few blocks away and killing someone else, authorities said.

    April 14, 2014

  • Couple: Truck was on fire before deadly bus crash

    A couple said a FedEx tractor-trailer was already on fire when it careened across a median, sideswiped their car and slammed into a bus carrying high school students, adding a new twist to the investigation of a crash that killed 10 people.
    Initial reports by police indicated the truck swerved to avoid a sedan that was traveling in the same direction in this town about 100 miles north of Sacramento, then went across the median. There was no mention of the truck being on fire.

    April 13, 2014

  • ‘Obamacare’ under attack as conservatives eye 2016

    Republicans eyeing the 2016 White House race battered President Barack Obama’s health care law and nicked each other Saturday, auditioning before a high-profile gathering of conservatives that some political veterans said marked the campaign’s unofficial start.

    April 13, 2014

  • Finance officials: Global economy turns the corner

    The world’s top finance officials expressed confidence Saturday that the global economy finally has turned the corner to stronger growth. This time, they may be right.
    Despite challenges that include market jitters about the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying slowdown and global tensions over Ukraine, policymakers said they believe there is a foundation for sustained growth that can provide jobs for the millions of people still looking for work five years after the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

    April 13, 2014

  • There’s a new ‘face,’ but old problems for health care law

    Abruptly on the spot as the new face of “Obamacare,” Sylvia Mathews Burwell faces steep challenges, both logistical and political.
    Burwell, until now White House budget director, was named by President Barack Obama on Friday to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who oversaw the messy rollout of the health care overhaul.

    April 12, 2014

  • Australia leader confident sounds are from Flight 370

    With the Malaysian jetliner mystery now five weeks old, officials have narrowed the search zone for the missing plane and are “very confident” the underwater signals they have heard are from its black box, Australia’s prime minister said Friday.
    At the same time, however, those electronic signals are fading, Tony Abbott added.

    April 12, 2014

  • Dreams dashed in fatal bus crash

    It was a busload of opportunity: young, low-income, motivated students, destined to become the first in their families to go to college, journeying from the concrete sprawl of Los Angeles to a remote redwood campus 650 miles north.
    Those dreams shattered for some Thursday in an explosive freeway collision that left 10 dead — students, chaperones and both drivers — and dozens hospitalized.

    April 12, 2014

  • Questions on long-term health lingering four years after spill

    When a BP oil well began gushing crude into the Gulf of Mexico four years ago, fisherman George Barisich used his boat to help clean up the millions of gallons that spewed in what would become the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.
    Like so many Gulf Coast residents who pitched in after the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, Barisich was motivated by a desire to help and a need to make money — the oil had destroyed his livelihood.

    April 12, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads