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March 08, 2013

WH says Israel trip is a go, Obama won't bring "specific peace plan"

The White House today ruled out any question about whether or not President Obama would put off his trip later this month to Israel because the Israeli government is not yet formed.

"We're going," White House principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, essentially ruling out the possibility of canceling the trip.

Asked if Obama harbored hopes of influencing the way Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu puts his government together, by including more centrist elements, Earnest noted the formation of the government was solely the Israel's government's responsibility.

He said Obama had several goals on the trip, including talking to the Israeli public and reaffirming U.S. support for Israeli security.

"We're also operating at a time when the region, Israel's neighborhood, if you will, is undergoing a pretty severe transition," Earnest said. "There's crisis. And it's important for the people of Israel to understand that the American people stand with them in that time of crisis, and that we're going to be there to protect them, and to work with them to ensure their security."

Asked whether Obama would be looking to sway the Israeli public on peace talks with the Palestinians, Earnest said Obama isn't going "with any specific peace plan in hand.

"He thinks it's in the best interests of both parties -- both the Palestinians and the Israelis -- to pursue a peace agreement," he said. He added that Obama would talk about the peace process with the Israeli government, as well as Palestinian President Abbas.

"This is an opportunity for him to have that discussion, make sure that it remains clear to them that   peace between the Israelis and Palestinians remains a priority of the president; that that's something that the United States is ready to strongly support if that dialogue is ready to take off."

But, he added, although it will be "the subject of a lot of conversation," it won't be because Obama plans to present a specific plan.

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