Obama plans Mideast tour


By JULIE PACE

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama steps into the Middle East’s political cauldron this coming week, he won’t be seeking any grand resolution for the region’s vexing problems.

His goal will be trying to keep the troubles, from Iran’s suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon to the bitter discord between Israelis and Palestinians, from boiling over on his watch.

Obama arrives in Jerusalem on Wednesday for his first trip to Israel as president.

His first priority will be resetting his oft-troubled relationship with now-weakened Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and evaluating the new coalition government Netanyahu laboriously cobbled together.

The president also will look to boost his appeal to a skeptical Israeli public, as well as to frustrated Palestinians.

The centerpiece of Obama’s visit will be a speech in Jerusalem to an audience mainly of Israeli students. It’s part of the president’s effort to appeal to the Israeli public, particularly young people.

He will make several cultural stops, all steeped in symbolism, in the region. They include the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem; Mount Herzl, where he’ll lay wreaths at the graves of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, and Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister who was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist who opposed Rabin’s policy of trading land with the Palestinians for peace; and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a revered site for Christians.

Traveling to the West Bank, Obama will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah. Obama and Fayyad will visit a Palestinian youth center, another attempt to reach the region’s young people.

Obama will make a 24-hour stop in Jordan, an important U.S. ally, where the president’s focus will be on the violence in neighboring Syria. More than 450,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan, crowding refugee camps.

and overwhelming aid organizations.

The White House said Obama had no plans to visit a refugee camp while in Jordan, though he will be discussing with government officials how the U.S. can increase its assistance.

In his talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah, Obama also will try to shore up the country’s fledgling attempts to liberalize its government and stave off an Arab Spring-style movement similar to the ones that have taken down leaders elsewhere in the region.

The president’s final stop will be in Petra, Jordan’s fabled ancient city.

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Follow Julie Pace on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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