Barack Obama arrives in Israel on first trip as president


US President Barack Obama (C), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and President Shimon Peres (L) listen to the national anthem at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport on March 20, 2013 upon Obama's arrival.



Barack Obama has landed in Israel on his first visit there as president.

Air Force One landed at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv around noon, The Guardian wrote on its live blog.

The trip has been described in media reports as aimed at easing tensions between Obama's administration and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Obama was scheduled to meet with Netanyahu — who greeted him at the airport — on Wednesday evening at his home, with Iran's nuclear program and the Syrian crisis at the top of the agenda, according to NBC.

Netanyahu was expected to try and get Obama to agree to define a "red line" for Iran over its nuclear development beyond which Israel could be expected to take military action.

However, according to USA Today, the White House said it did not expect significant agreements to come out of the trip, in which Obama will also visit Jordan.

Rather, Obama aimed to improve US relations with both Israelis and Palestinians and clarify where Washington stands on the Middle East issues.

Obama was expected to visit the West Bank to meet Palestinian leaders in the disputed territory during his stay.

Palestinian youth groups were planning to protest his visit in Ramallah on Thursday, Haaretz wrote, quoting an organizer, Hazem Abu Hilal, as saying:

"Obama is coming to strengthen Israel, which means continued occupation and settlement."

Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived ahead of Obama, met with Netanyahu's envoy, Isaac Molcho, to discuss Palestine, the Guardian wrote.

The paper reported that Israeli president Shimon Peres — who also met Obama at Ben Gurion — would be handing Obama a petition signed by more than 200,000 Israelis calling for the release of Jonathan Pollard, a American imprisoned for the past 28 years for spying for Israel.

Obama's visit has resulted in major road closures around the capital, Jerusalem.