By HERB KEINON, JPOST—
US Ambassador Dan Shapiro dismissed speculation on Wednesday that the timing of President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel is somehow aimed at impacting the coalition talks.
“Obviously we don’t play a role and have no intention of interfering in Israeli coalition negotiations,” Shapiro told The Jerusalem Post, responding to claims that the surprise timing might be aimed at getting Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni to join the government.
One Israeli government official echoed Shapiro’s comments, saying it was “provincial” to think that the US president’s decision to travel to Amman, Jerusalem and Ramallah in late March revolved around an effort to get Lapid or The Tzipi Livni Party leader in the coalition.
“I don’t think he thinks in those terms,” the official said.
Neither Shapiro nor Israeli officials would confirm media reports that Obama would arrive on March 20.
Nor would they say how long Obama would stay, though he is expected to spend one or two nights in Jerusalem.
Shapiro said the planned visit represented a “continuation of the close coordination” between the US and Israel that existed during Obama’s first term, and which would continue in the second term as well. He said the agenda items of the talks in Israel included preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, dealing with the collapse of President Bashar Assad’s regime and the volatile situation in Syria, ensuring Israel’s ability to defend itself and the Palestinian issue.
Shapiro said he did not feel Obama’s decision to come so early on in his second term was in any way an admission that he had erred in not visiting Israel during the early days of his first term, when he made trips to Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
“This is something he wanted to do early in his second term because of the very pressing agenda we have together with Israel, and he thinks doing it early is an important way of getting those conversations set for the period ahead – whether it is one year ahead, or the period they will serve together,” the ambassador said.
Asked about Obama’s expectations for the visit, Shapiro said he wanted to “find ways of demonstrating the depth, breadth and quality of the Israeli-US partnership, and deepen the consultations we have on a regular basis throughout our government on all those key items on the agenda.”
Shapiro gave no indication that Obama, as some had speculated, was bringing a new diplomatic plan for the Palestinian track.
White House press secretary Jay Carney, meanwhile, told reporters that Obama would not be bringing a new peace plan with him, and that the visit was not connected to any specific Middle East peace proposals.
National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror will travel to the US next week to begin planning the trip. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appointed Amidror as the person in his office responsible for coordinating the visit.
Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho will also be traveling to Washington in the coming days to discuss ways to restart the diplomatic process. Molcho was taken off Netanyahu’s coalition negotiating team to focus on Obama’s trip and this issue.