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Dunsmore: Middle East Trip

03/07/13 7:55AM By Barrie Dunsmore
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(Host) In two weeks time, President Barack Obama is scheduled to be in the Middle East and for the first time in his presidency, will be visiting Israel. This morning, commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore examines the importance of this presidential trip.

(Dunsmore) President Obama's long awaited visit to Israel may not take place on schedule. That's because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to complete negotiations to form a new government following the January elections in which his own party lost a quarter of its seats in Israel's parliament. As the new coalition could re-shape future Israeli policies it makes sense to get that resolved prior to Obama's arrival. But in any event, the visit will eventually take place, and it will matter.

We got a curtain raiser for the Obama-Netanyahu talks, in speeches this past week to the annual meeting of the pro-Israeli lobby known as AIPAC- the America Israel Political Action Committee. Both Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who appeared by satellite, went out of their way to avoid controversial issues in the U.S.-Israeli relationship - especially the subject of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land.

That this is no longer an issue represents a victory for Mr. Netanyahu and a capitulation for Mr. Obama - who tried and failed to get Israel to agree to a settlement freeze to encourage more productive peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The subject of the 45 year Israeli - Palestinian conflict will of course come up - especially when the president goes to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian leaders and to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah. But Obama is not expected to bring any new peace proposals and nothing much is expected on that front.

Actually, what concerned the 13,000 delegates to the AIPAC conference earlier this week was not the possibilities for peace but the prospects of another Middle East War. In addressing the subject of Iran's nuclear program, Vice President Biden emphasized that if all else failed, President Obama would use military force to stop it. And when he said, "Presidents of the United States cannot and do not bluff- and President Barack Obama is not bluffing."- he drew a standing ovation.

A few minutes later Prime Minister Netanyahu drew a similar reaction when he said, "Words alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail."

As the Reuters News Agency noted, "Netanyahu's remarks showed that the latest round of international talks with Iran in Kazakstan last week had done little to sooth Israeli concerns. It is a message he is likely to deliver face-to-face when he meets Obama."

Yet there have been two important events since the two leaders crossed swords over settlements. Mr. Obama solidly won his re-election while Mr. Netanyahu took quite a beating in his. Also, majorities of Americans and Israelis tell pollsters they have serious reservations about going to war with Iran.

Some pundits still suggest that Obama and Netanyahu are playing good cop - bad cop to scare the Iranians. That's plausible- but not probable. And I think we still have to consider war a real possibility.


 

 

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