US President Barack Obama meets with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House - Reuters
US officials are in Israel to prepare the ground for Barack Obama's first visit to the country as American president in the coming weeks.
American and Israeli officials have confirmed Obama's visit which is likely to take place in March. The visit is considered crucial as both sides would like to strengthen bilateral ties amid esclating tensions in the Middle East. Top Israeli politicians have hailed the announcement about Obama's visit.
Israel has been facing serious challenges from Iran, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria in recent times as ties with the US have become uneasy. The US and Israel largely agree on issues concerning Iran and Syria but not on Palestine.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's housing settlement proposal in the sensitive E1 region became controversial and was criticised by the US. Israeli's ties with Palestine are likely to become the centrepiece of Obama's visit to Israel and Palestine.
Netanyahu has been criticised by opposition parties for the friction in Israel's relationship with the US.
Obama's last visit to Israel was in July 2008 as a presidential candidate. He was criticised for not visiting Israel during his first term.
"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 and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including Iran and Syria," said National Security Council spokesperson Tommy Vietor.
He skipped any reference to Palestine, which is likely to be the key issue between the two countries. Obama will also pay a visit to the West Bank region to "continue his close work" with Palestinian authorities.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is likely to visit Israel in a week's time, had also called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and vowed to "pursue lasting peace" between Israelis and Palestinians.
The exact date and other details of the visit are to be released later, US officials said. According to reports, Obama will also be visiting Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt.
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