U.S. President Barack Obama will address the annual conference of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby, next month, the White House announced on Tuesday.
The White House says Obama will speak at the conference on March 4. The following day, he will hold meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will also be in Washington to attend the conference.
“The president welcomes this opportunity to speak to the strengths of the special bonds between Israel and the United States,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
The U.S. president’s election-year remarks to AIPAC come as Republican presidential candidates continue to openly question his support for Israel and his handling of Iran’s nuclear threat. Obama insists he is a staunch supporter of Israel.
Obama’s appearance at the conference also comes as the international community grows increasingly concerned that Israel could soon launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear program. The U.S. is urging Israel not to take that step.
The announcement of the White House meeting came in a briefing of a weekend visit between Netanyahu and Obama’s National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in Jerusalem. “Mr. Donilon and his delegation addressed the full range of security issues of mutual concern,” the White House statement said. “The visit is part of the continuous and intensive dialogue between the United States and Israel and reflects our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.”
Obama’s speech to AIPAC in May of last year followed a testy encounter at the White House in which Netanyahu stunned his hosts by warning Obama against seeking peace “based on illusions” as he vowed Israel would never pull back to old borders he regarded as “indefensible.”
Netanyahu expressed his appreciation for Obama’s remarks to AIPAC, saying in a statement, “I am determined to work together with President Obama to find ways to resume the peace negotiations.” Nevertheless, last May’s incident exposed a deep rift between Jerusalem and Washington in their philosophies for advancing the long-stalled peace process.
In a pointed comment clearly aimed at Obama’s new approach to the long-running conflict, Netanyahu said after his meeting with Obama last year, “The only peace that will endure is one that is based on reality, on unshakable facts.”
President Shimon Peres is also set to speak at the AIPAC conference. Several prominent Americans will also speak at the gathering, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Carl Levin, President of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and former Congresswoman Jane Harman, CNN and Fox News contributors, editor of The Weekly Standard William Kristol. Middle East commentator for Channel 2 News, Ehud Yaari, will also speak.