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Israeli PM Begins US Visit for Talks on Mideast Peace, Iran

By VOA News

Pressed on Palestinian state, Netanyahu changes the subject - to Iran

By Tom A. Peter,
The Christian Science Monitor

Just six weeks into his second term, Mr. Netanyahu has so far shown little interest in making concessions, and - most troubling to Arab leaders - he has not expressed support for a Palestinian state. He has instead cast Iranian nuclear ambitions as his nation's main concern and is expected to appeal for Mr. Obama's support on this issue during their forthcoming meeting.

Israel's new prime minister begins a visit to Washington Sunday for talks with U.S. officials on Israeli-Arab peace prospects and Iran's nuclear program.

The thorny issue of Palestinian statehood will top the agenda when hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits down with President Barack Obama at the White House. For the first time in years, there are key disagreements between the United States and Israel. Mr. Obama has endorsed a two-state solution as the only way to Middle East peace, but Mr. Netanyahu has not.

Israeli spokesman Dan Gillerman.

"I think the Prime Minister is presenting a very realistic and yet pragmatic position," Gillerman said.

Mr. Netanyahu believes that a Palestinian terror state could develop in the West Bank, similar to what happened when the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip. Hamas ousted the Fatah forces of U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a civil war two years ago. Today, Mr. Abbas heads a more moderate government in the West Bank, but Israel fears he could be toppled by Hamas.

In addition, Mr. Netanyahu sees Iran as a more pressing issue than the Palestinian track. With the Iranian president threatening to wipe Israel "off the map," he will tell Mr. Obama that Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons.

Israel has expressed concern over Mr. Obama's plans to negotiate with Iran, saying Teheran would use those talks to buy time while moving closer to nuclear capability. If international sanctions fail, Israel has threatened to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, a move that Washington opposes.

Playing down the differences, Gillerman says Mr. Netanyahu is confident that the two allies can find common ground.

"He sees in that meeting with President Obama a chance for two new leaders, two leaders who were elected when the world is probably at its most dangerous ever, sitting together as friends and allies and finding a way to make this world safer," Gillerman said.

Palestinian officials have warned that unless Mr. Netanyahu endorses the two-state solution, there is no sense in resuming peace talks.

... Payvand News - 05/17/09 ... --

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