Naharnet

Obama Invites Netanyahu for Talks on June 1

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold talks with Barack Obama in Washington next week after White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel handed him a personal invitation from the U.S. president on Wednesday.

"On behalf of the president ... he has asked me to extend an invitation to you to come and visit him at the White House for a working meeting to discuss both our shared security interests as well as our close cooperation in seeking peace between Israel and its neighbors," Emanuel said after talks with the Israeli leader in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said the talks would take place in Washington on Tuesday.

"He invited the prime minister to visit (Obama) in the White House on Tuesday June 1 and the prime minister accepted his gracious invitation," he told Agence France Presse.

The Israeli leader leaves for Paris early on Thursday where he will formally accept an invitation for Israel to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based group of 30 developed world nations.

He will then travel to Canada before heading to Washington.

Emanuel, who is on a private visit to Israel with his family, had been widely expected to extend the invitation to Netanyahu in what is being viewed as a U.S. attempt to mend ties with Israel following a dispute over Jewish settlements.

"The invitation is supposed to signal that the White House and Obama are interested in turning over a new leaf in their relations with Israel," the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot daily said in anticipation of the move.

The visit will come ahead of a similar trip by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is expected to meet Obama at some point in June, although a date has yet to be set.

Quoting unnamed Israeli officials, the Haaretz daily said Obama wanted to meet Netanyahu before meeting Abbas to head off criticism from congressmen and U.S. Jewish leaders.

"The White House feared the upcoming meeting with Abbas -- meant to show Obama's support for the Palestinian leader -- would draw unfavorable comparisons with the disastrous March meeting with Netanyahu, thereby deepening the crisis with Israel -- and sparking more criticism of Obama's Israel policy," the paper said.

"By holding a positive meeting with Netanyahu before Abbas arrives, the administration hopes to deflect such comparisons."

Netanyahu and Obama last met in March in a meeting which lacked the normal show of mutual warmth, and was deprived of the trappings usually accorded to a visiting leader at the White House.

The frosty reception was widely viewed as an attempt to humiliate Netanyahu in the wake of a spat over settlements which erupted two weeks earlier and greatly embarrassed Vice President Joe Biden who was visiting at the time.

Simmering tensions between Israel and its biggest ally have since eased, with Netanyahu hinting last week he might offer a package of goodwill gestures to encourage the Palestinians to return to direct talks after an 18-month gap.

And last week, the House of Representatives backed plans to give Israel an extra 200 million dollars (166 million euros) in military aid to help it procure an anti-missile system to intercept short-range rockets and artillery shells of the sort that have been fired by Hizbullah and Hamas in the past.

Israel and the Palestinians embarked on a round of U.S.-brokered indirect negotiations on May 9 as Washington presses for a resumption of peace efforts.

Last week, both Netanyahu and Abbas met U.S. envoy George Mitchell as part of those proximity talks.

The last round of direct negotiations between the two sides collapsed in December 2008 when Israel launched a devastating offensive against the Gaza.(AFP)


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