World Bulletin / News Desk
U.S. President Barack Obama hosted leaders of major American Jewish organizations at the White House on Thursday ahead of for his first presidential visit to Israel later this month.
Obama used Thursday's talks to reiterate his "unshakeable support" for Israel, a White House official said. The president's aides have insisted that U.S.-Israeli ties have remained on solid ground despite discord with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about a number of issues such as illegal settlements.
While the White House has denied that Obama will present his own peace plan during the trip, the president made clear he will not shy away from the issue and left open the possibility of a more concerted diplomatic push at a later time, a source knowledgeable about the meeting told Reuters.
Obama told the leaders he wanted to speak directly to the Israeli people and, in a major address in Jerusalem, will urge them to work for peace with the Palestinians, the source said.
At the White House meeting, Obama played down disagreement with Netanyahu over how to deal with Iran's nuclear program and suggested that differences among Israelis themselves were greater, the source said.
JEWISH GROUPS AT MEETING
The White House declined to release a list of participants, who numbered more than a dozen and spanned the political spectrum. It has yet to officially announce the dates of Obama's trip, which will include the occupied West Bank and Jordan. Israeli media have reported he will start his visit there on March 20.
Among the groups represented on Thursday were the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, B'nai B'rith, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the American Jewish Committee and J Street. Famed attorney Alan Dershowitz and former Democratic congressman Robert Wexler were also present, the source said.
"President Obama invited leaders from across the American Jewish community to discuss and get input about his upcoming trip to Israel," the official said.
"The president noted that the trip is not dedicated to resolving a specific policy issue, but is rather an opportunity to consult with the Israeli government about a broad range of issues - including Iran, Syria, the situation in the region, and the peace process," the official said.
Such groups carry weight with Republicans and Democrats alike in Congress and with a range of parties in Israel, where Netanyahu is struggling to forge a new coalition government after a weaker-than-expected showing in January's election.
Obama's trip to Israel will be his first since taking office in 2009. His Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, also waited until his second term to visit the Jewish state.Last Mod: 08 Mart 2013, 09:52