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Obama’s Off-Script Moments Lighten Imagery of Trip to Israel

March 20 (Bloomberg) -- From the moment Barack Obama stepped off Air Force One in Tel Aviv, his first presidential visit to Israel has been scripted with imagery and statements aimed at showing his support for Israel and its people.

That didn’t prevent him from wandering off script.

At his arrival ceremony today at Ben Gurion International Airport, Obama was picked up on camera quipping to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a side benefit of the trip is that it was “good to get away from Congress.” Back in Washington, Obama has been running a “charm offensive” in an effort to persuade Republican lawmakers to back his deficit-reduction plans.

At the next stop, also on the airport grounds, Obama was instructed by an official to follow a thin, painted red line to a structure that housed part of a missile-defense system he was touring.

With Netanyahu at his side, Obama joked that the prime minister was always talking to him about “red lines.” It was a reference to the differences between the U.S. and Israel over what threshold Iran’s nuclear program would need to cross before military action is required to stop it.

Other departures from the day’s script were beyond the president’s control.

Limo Breakdown

One of Obama’s armored presidential limousines broke down, causing a stir in the local press although Obama wasn’t in the vehicle at the time. Ed Donovan, a spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service, issued a statement saying that’s why the president travels with multiple vehicles and a mechanic, and Obama wasn’t affected.

Another media flurry -- later discounted -- involved Israeli media reports that, because of agricultural concerns, the Israelis had dug up a magnolia tree that Obama brought from the White House and had planted today with Israeli President Shimon Peres in the garden at Peres’s residence.

Peres spokeswoman Ayelet Frisch said that wasn’t correct. Instead, the tree was planted with a plastic wrap surrounding the roots until it can be inspected by the Agriculture Ministry -- a deal worked out with the White House weeks ago.

“They will come in two or three weeks to see that there’s nothing unhealthy in the roots,” she said. “All countries have such rules.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Talev in Jerusalem at mtalev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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