US President Barack Obama, despite the widespread perception, does not dislike Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and rumors to that effect are “incorrect,” said US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro during a Wednesday morning interview with Channel 10. The two leaders, moreover, “share common interests.”
Obama, who is scheduled to visit Israel next week, intends to consult with Netanyahu on the main international issues facing Israel, including Iran’s nuclear program, the Syrian civil war and ways to initiate direct talks with the Palestinians on a two-state solution, Shapiro said.
The ambassador, speaking fairly fluent Hebrew, said that Obama is “not a cold man” and was eager to address young Israelis during his trip. Hosting the president is “a big honor for me,” Shapiro said.
First Lady Michelle Obama will not be joining her husband on the trip, which will also include visits to Ramallah and Jordan, Shapiro said, adding that if there was more time he would have taken the president to Masada or to “play paddle ball on the Holon beach.”
The ambassador said the release of convicted American-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, currently serving a life sentence, was unlikely. “I’m aware that this is a matter that many Israelis want to solve,” Shapiro said. “There are voices in the United States that aggressively oppose it, because of what he did. I do not know what will happen, but I do not expect any announcements about this during the visit.”
Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Wednesday, citing American officials, that the major focus of Obama’s visit will be the Iranian issue. The president reportedly intends to ask Netanyahu to refrain from military action against Iran’s nuclear program, in exchange for a clear October 2013 deadline for the diplomatic track to produce results, after which the US will consider a military option.