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Obama meets Jewish leaders ahead of Israel trip

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

President Barack Obama on Thursday signaled there would be no big Middle East peace initiative on the table when he arrives in Israel later this month for his first visit as US leader.

Obama met American Jewish community leaders at the White House as he prepares for the trip, and told his guests that he was not aiming to resolve any specific policy issue in Israel, a US official said.

The White House had previously taken steps to quiet rumors that Obama would use the visit to relaunch a US-brokered effort to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians, following a failed initaitive in his first term.

Obama did however say in the meeting that he would outline a "framework" that could evolve into a more concrete US diplomatic effort in the year to come, an outside person familiar with the conversation said.

US officials have styled the trip as an effort to reconnect with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he had a delicate relationship during his first term and to coordinate on key issues like Iran and Syria.

"The President reiterated America's unshakeable support for Israel and thanked the leaders for role they play in strengthening ties between the two nations," the US official said.

"The President noted that the trip is not dedicated to resolving a specific policy issue, but is rather an opportunity to consult with the Israeli government about a broad range of issues -- including Iran, Syria, the situation in the region, and the peace process."

A person briefed on what took place in the meeting told AFP that Obama stressed that he meant exactly what he said when he warns that he will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon.

But the president said he did not intend to indulge in "chest beating" rhetoric on Iran, stressing that he wanted to preserve facesaving diplomatic space for Tehran to compromise in international talks on its nuclear program.

The White House did not immediately provide a list of Jewish community leaders who took part in the meeting, which was not on the president's public schedule.

But one participant, Marc Stanley, chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council confirmed that the president had said he would discuss Iran, Israeli-Palestinian peace and Syria on his trip.

"President Obama is a true friend (of) our community and said that he looks forward to a dialogue with the Israeli people," Stanley said.

Obama is due in Israel at the end of this month on a trip that will also see him travel to see Palestinian leaders on the West Bank and also visit Jordan on the first foreign policy mission of his second term.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130307/obama-meets-jewish-leaders-ahead-israel-trip-0