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President Obama Set To Begin ‘Charm Offensive’ In The Middle East

Commander-In-Chief To Speak Directly To Israelis, But Many Say Tactic Will Fail
President Barack Obama was scheduled to leave for the Middle East on March 18, 2013. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama was scheduled to leave for the Middle East on March 18, 2013. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – President Barack Obama left for the Middle East on Tuesday evening. He’s on a mission to charm the Israelis into making peace concessions and to find some way to peacefully stop Iran from building a bomb.

However, as CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported, there is cynicism about what he can accomplish.

Even before Air Force One was to take off for his first trip to Israel since taking office, President Obama was trying to convince Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States is ready to resolve Iran’s nuclear threat peacefully.

“Now is the time for the Iranian government to take immediate and meaningful steps to reduce tensions and work toward and enduring, long-term settlement to the nuclear issue,” Obama said.

The president’s move came in a four-minute statement — with Persian subtitles — that attempted to go around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and reach the Iranian people directly.

It’s the same strategy he wants to employ in Israel, an attempt to circumvent Netanyahu with a campaign-like speech to the Israeli people.

“This trip is a charm offensive to make Israelis like him,” said Jerusalem Post political correspondent Gil Hoffman.

Hoffman said Obama thinks he can win a Middle East peace settlement if Israelis pressure Netanyahu.

“He wants to move it forward, but he knows he can’t do it unless he is respected by Israelis,” Hoffman said.

This as a new Marist/McClatchy poll finds that voters here largely think the president’s visit will fall flat: 65 percent of voters in the United States say they do not think the trip will restart the peace talks. Another 27 percent say it will help, while 3 percent said it will make no difference.

Tri-State Area residents in Israel had some tough talk for the president and his peace initiative.

“I don’t know what he has to do with it. The Israelis and the Arabs will do it on their own,” said Ruth Berkovits of Lakewood, N.J.

“I think first and foremost he has to gain first-hand experience, understanding and appreciation of the security concerns here in Israel, not just empty talks about where the lines are, what security means or where the borders are moving,” added Alan Braverman of Wesley Hills, N.Y.

But despite the skepticism from some, there are those who believe the Israelis need to like Obama right back, because for the Jewish nation there are few events more important than the visit of an American president.

“Israel, for intents and purposes, I’m sorry to say, has only one friend left and that is the United States,” Professor Alon Ben-Meir of the NYU Center for Global Affairs told CBS 2’s Lou Young on Tuesday night.

Others said it’s in the best interest of both sides for the Israelis to really take to heart Obama’s message.

“We have a vested interest in the stability of Israel as well as seeing the Arab nations evolve into more Democratic societies,” said Mark Siffin of the Upper West Side.

However, after 65 years of Arab-Israeli conflict, it’s easy to have doubts that a trip like this will actually go somewhere diplomatically.

“Just showing up, it goes somewhere. Just to show support, it goes somewhere,” tourist Brian Chandler told CBS 2’s Young.

“You have to continue to try. You can’t just give up on it,” added tourist Dr. Charles Brown.

The White House has carefully chosen the spots President Obama will visit. Many are designed to send a signal to the Palestinians and the world that he thinks Israel has a legitimate right — and a legitimate claim — to its homeland.

Do you think the president will be successful? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …