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Obama sets off for Israel charm offensive

Update: March, 20/2013 - 11:26

JERUSALEM – Barack Obama was on his way to Israel on Wednesday for the first time as US president, hoping to ease past tensions with his hosts and under pressure to narrow differences over handling Iran's nuclear threat.

Obama's long-awaited visit, the debut overseas trip of his second term, comes as Israel's new government settles in and will also expose Obama's diminished ambitions of forging peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The president's airplane, Air Force One, took off at 8:15pm (0015 GMT Wednesday) from Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.

Obama was scheduled to touch down in Tel Aviv at around 1030 GMT and embark on a four-day trip during which he will meet Israeli leaders and travel to the West Bank.

There he will find Palestinians who feel he did not live up to early vows to dedicate himself to a two-state deal.

Obama will also consult with King Abdullah II in Jordan.

"My goal on this trip is to listen. I intend to meet with Bibi (Netanyahu) ... I intend to meet with Fayyad and Abu Mazen (Abbas) and to hear from them what is their strategy, what is their vision, where do they think this should go?" Obama told Israeli television.

Upon arrival Obama will immediately come face-to-face with Israel's security challenge, viewing a mobile battery of Israel's US-funded Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Then he will head to Jerusalem, to visit President Shimon Peres before going into talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On his trip, Obama will pointedly court symbolism as he will be inspecting the Dead Sea Scrolls and visiting the tomb of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism.

The choreography is intended to show Israelis, Arabs and political foes back home that Obama is deeply committed to Israel's security and future, despite some scepticism about his motives.

Obama normally gets a hero's welcome on foreign trips but after his call for a "new beginning" with the Muslim world in his first term, he will confront questionable personal popularity among Israelis.

AFP



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