President Barack Obama will visit Saudi Arabia next week, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said today, adding it as the first stop to a previously announced itinerary that includes a planned speech to the Muslim world from Cairo, Egypt, visits to Dresden and Buchenwald in Germany, and commemoration of the 65th anniversary of D-Day in France.
In Riyadh, Obama will meet with Saudi King Abdullah on June 3. Iran, terrorism, and the Middle East peace process will be on the agenda, the AP cited Gibbs.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is due to meet with Obama at the White House Thursday. Obama will meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who canceled his White House visit due to the death of his grandson, in Cairo. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman are currently in Washington in his stead.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is expected to come to Washington next week, Israeli media reported. Reports said Barak would propose dismantling 26 West Bank outposts in exchange for Washington's acquiescence to continue "natural growth" expansion in existing West Bank settlements. Barak is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, national security advisor James L. Jones, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
At a press conference following a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, Obama said, "Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward. That's a difficult issue. I recognize that, but it's an important one and it has to be addressed."
A former Israeli government official told The Cable that he found Barak's planned request to Washington shocking. "You would think ... they would at least pretend to understand the Obama zeitgeist and at a minimum play the game," he said. "But no, they are dumber than meets the eye."
"I imagine that within a week or so, commentators will accuse [Netanyahu] of misleading the U.S. and dragging [his] feet," the former Israeli official added. "There is already criticism in the media of his settler-mentality, neo-con mindset, Cold War rhetoric, staff who misinterpret both Israeli public opinion and contemporary Washington and think it's just fine to confront Obama on some ... settlement the size of a McDonald's toilet."
UPDATE: At a news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Gheit Wednesday, Secretary of State Clinton said:
With respect to settlements, the President was very clear when Prime Minister Netanyahu was here. He wants to see a stop to settlements - not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions. We think it is in the best interests of the effort that we are engaged in that settlement expansion cease. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly, not only to the Israelis but to the Palestinians and others. And we intend to press that point.
Cilnton is scheduled to have dinner with PA President Abbas Wednesday night.