Barack Obama wants talks with Netanyahu, Abbas - official
US President Barack Obama likely wants to host a summit between Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his upcoming visit to the region, outgoing Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Wednesday, DPA reported.
Ayalon told Israel Army Radio that he was "certain" efforts to arrange such a summit were underway.
Echoing several Israeli newspaper and television pundits, Ayalon said Obama would not be visiting Israel unless it was clear the visit would mark some sort of breakthrough in the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama's visit "is not focused on specific Middle East peace process proposals."
"I'm sure that any time the president and prime minister have a discussion and certainly any time the president has a discussion with leaders of the Palestinian Authority, that those issues are raised," said Jay Carney. "But that is not the purpose of this visit."
The White House announced Tuesday that Obama will visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan in the coming weeks, but gave no firm date for the visit.
Direct Israel-Palestinian peace talks have been stalled since late September 2010, when Netanyahu refused a Palestinian demand to extend a partial, limited freeze in construction in Israel's West Bank settlements.
Abbas has since added that Israel must also agree to recognize the June 1967 borders as the basis for a future Palestinian state and free Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, as a prerequisite for peace talks.
Netanyahu, for his part, has invited Abbas to resume peace talks without preconditions.
US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro told Army Radio the agenda of Obama's trip would be "complex" and "complicated" and would include talks on restarting the peace process, the Iranian nuclear programme and the civil war in Syria.
He also told Israel Radio that the visit, announced Tuesday, will take place once the new Israeli government is formed. Netanyahu was charged Saturday night with setting up a new coalition, following Israel's January 22 elections.
The visit was apparently agreed upon in a January 28 telephone conversation between Obama and Netanyahu.
"They agreed that the start of his second term, and the installation of a new government in Israel, would be a good time for him to visit," said Shapiro.
Obama and Netanyahu have a cordial working relationship and have clashed on such issues as how to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and how best to advance the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The visit will be Obama's first to Israel as president. He visited the Jewish state in 2008, while campaigning for the presidency.