President Barack Obama met with Arab-American leaders today to seek their views ahead of his trip next week to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.
Obama met last week with Jewish-American leaders. Today’s meeting was the first time Obama met at the White House with Arab-American leaders as a group, said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, a policy center in Washington.
He was among 10 participants who also included representatives of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Federation of Ramallah-Palestine, American Task Force for Palestine, an imam and an Orthodox priest.
“We were delighted to have had the opportunity to weigh in on the visit,” Zogby said in an interview following the meeting. “There’s enormous expectations and a bit of cynicism. People need to feel a sense of renewed confidence again that the president cares.”
Obama told participants he will use the visit to express U.S. support for Palestinians, an independent Palestinian state, the Palestinian Authority and security and political reform in Jordan as well as underscoring the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security, according to a White House official who was authorized to release a brief description of the meeting on condition of anonymity.
During the trip, the official also said Obama will speak directly to the Israeli people about about the shared history, interest and values of the U.S. and Israel.
Obama’s visit to Israel next week will be his first since he took office in 2009, although he made a similar trip as a candidate for president in 2008. It comes as the U.S. is seeking more time for diplomatic pressure rather than military action to curb Iran’s nuclear efforts. It also follows elections in Israel that are ushering in a new governing coalition. Obama is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
With the Israeli-Palestinian peace process stalled, the administration isn’t poised to announce developments in connection with the trip.
Zogby declined to share details of today’s meeting, other than to say he and other participants offered their views on what the Arab community would want to hear from the president and places he should consider visiting.
“Given the fact that we had not had a meeting before and we had a meeting now, and it’s in advance of the trip, I felt very good,” Zogby said.