Obama plans trip to Israel, West Bank, Jordan

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama plans to visit Israel, the West Bank and Jordan this spring, the White House said Tuesday, raising the prospects of a new U.S. push to restart long-stalled Israel-Palestinian peace efforts.

While the White House gave no exact dates for the trip, his first to Israel as president, Israel's Channel 10 TV cited unnamed sources in Washington saying Obama would start his visit to the Jewish state on March 20.

The choice of Israel, a close U.S. ally, for Obama's first foreign travel since his Jan. 21 inauguration will give the president and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a chance to mend a relationship that has been especially testy in the past year because of differences over how to confront Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Netanyahu is now forging a new governing coalition after center-left challengers made surprising gains in last month's elections, something that Obama's aides believe could strengthen his hand with the hawkish prime minister.

"The start of the president's second term and the formation of a new Israeli government offer the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including Iran and Syria," the White House said.Obama and Netanyahu discussed the president's coming trip in a Jan. 28 telephone call, the White House and the Israeli prime minister's office said. -- Reuters

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