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With Peace In Mind, President Obama To Make First Trip To Israel

Sources: Britain, Other Allies Turning Up Heat On U.S., Want Process Furthered
Obama-Netanyahu

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) during meetings in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., March 5, 2012. The two leaders go into talks on the Iranian nuclear stand-off, with each publicly seeking to stake out some common ground. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — President Barack Obama plans to visit Israel this spring — his first trip since taking office following the 2008 election.

Sources told CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer on Tuesday that on the president’s agenda will be a push for Middle East peace.

President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have had a number of meetings at the White House, including some that were quite tense. But as early as next month Obama will meet Netanyahu on his home court for the very first time as president.

“When the president spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu on Jan. 28 they discussed a visit by the president to Israel in the spring,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

The White House did not release a date. Israeli television said it will be March 20, but sources told Kramer the president’s visit will be preceded by a visit to the area by new Secretary of State John Kerry.

Sources also told Kramer the United States is being pressured by Britain and other European allies to move the Middle East peace process forward and Kerry’s task will be to lay the groundwork or at least explore possible concessions.

“The start of the president’s second term and the formation of a new Israeli government offer the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel,” Carney said.

Translation:  The Americans feel they may have more sway with Netanyahu now because his hard right coalition was weakened during last month’s elections. Carney went out of his way not to mention the peace process per se, saying only that the president would want “to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including, of course, Iran and Syria.”

The visit could help repair Obama’s image in Israel, where he is regarded as more interested in the Arab cause. Not forgotten in Israel is Obama’s snub early in his first term when he gave a speech in Egypt but didn’t travel across the border to the Jewish state.

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