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Obama in Israel to mend strained ties

TEL AVIV — President Barack Obama arrived in Israel today without any new peace initiative to offer disillusioned Palestinians and facing deep Israeli doubts over his pledge to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

Making his first official visit here as president, Obama hopes to use the trip to reset his often fraught relations with both the Israelis and Palestinians in a choreographed three-day stay that is high on symbolism but low on expectations.

He was met at Tel Aviv airport by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres after Air Force One stopped next to a huge red carpet laid out down the tarmac.

Obama held lengthy talks with Netanyahu later in the day, and joined the Israeli prime minister at a news conference at 8:10 p.m. He will travel to the occupied West Bank tomorrow to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

US officials say Obama will try to coax the Palestinians and Israelis back to peace talks. He will also seek to reassure Netanyahu he is committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear bomb and discuss ways of containing Syria’s civil war.

Little hope

However, the White House has deliberately minimised hopes of any major breakthroughs, a reversal from Obama’s first four years in office when aides said he would visit the Jewish state only if he had something concrete to accomplish.

Workers have hung hundreds of US and Israel flags on lamp posts across Jerusalem, as well as banners that boast of “an unbreakable alliance”. But the apparent lack of any substantial policy push has bemused many diplomats and analysts.

“This seems to me to be an ill-scheduled and ill-conceived visit,” said Gidi Grinstein, president of the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv-based think tank.

“On the Iranian situation, Israel and the USA don’t seem to have anything new to say to each other. On Syria, the Americans don’t have a clear outlook, and on the Palestinian issue, they are taking a step back and their hands off.” (Reuters)

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