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Middle east

Netanyahu and Obama meet for first talks

Text by Shirli SITBON

Latest update : 2009-05-18

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu arrived at the White House for first talks with US President Barack Obama as discord over Iran's nuclear programme and a two-state solution to Mideast peace tests ties between the allies.

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama will meet on Monday for the first time since they both came to office amid growing speculation that a rift may be developing between the two allies over the stalled Middle East peace process and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

 

Washington is keen to relaunch peace negotiations after years on the slow track. Obama is expected to push Netanyahu to endorse Palestinian statehood, a cornerstone of US policy, but a concession that Netanyahu is unlikely to offer during his visit.  

 

"The major disagreement is probably on priorities. While Netanyahu is likely to emphasize the threat of the Iranian nuclear weapons programme, Obama wants Israel to move faster on the Israeli-Palestinian track," says Professor Eitan Gilboa at Israel’s Bar Ilan University.

 

And to push the process forward, Obama is also expected to press Netanyahu to force a halt in settlement construction in the West Bank.

 

“Obama made it clear that progress in the Middle East is in the national interest of the United States,” freelance journalist and Middle East specialist Marc Perelman told FRANCE 24. “He is dedicated to achieving peace. The question is what will be prioritised.”

 
Peres weighs in
 

Netanyahu is expected to present Obama with his own “fresh” plan for peace in the Middle East, focusing on the Iranian nuclear issue rather than on Palestinian statehood.

 

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has said that Obama must press Israel to accept the creation of a Palestinian state if he is to avert a further escalation of violence in the region. But according to Israeli President Shimon Peres, the Israeli PM has already endorsed the two-state solution, albeit indirectly.

 

“He said he will abide by the resolutions of the previous governments and in these resolutions you have a road map based on the two-state solution,” said Peres, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Jordan on Sunday.

 

According to the Israeli press, Peres has urged Netanyahu to avoid open confrontation with Obama at any cost. 

 
Engaging Iran
 

However, Europe 1 journalist Emmanuel Faux believes there will be no clash in the White House.

 

“This is an initial meeting. Obama and Netanyahu will simply present their views. Other discussions are planned for later on," he told FRANCE 24. 

 

Netanyahu is expected to focus on Iran as Obama aims to engage talks with Tehran.

 

“During his visit Netanyahu will try to learn as much as possible about the discussions”

 

Obama’s declarations in an interview to Newsweek on Sunday may reassure the Israeli leaders. The American president said he was not “naive” about Iran and is not “taking any options off the table”.

 

“Obama is at the beginning of a long process,” Emmanuel Faux told FRANCE 24. “His upcoming speech to the Arab world in Cairo on June 4 may launch this new process.”

 

Date created : 2009-05-18

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