Israel, White House discussing Trump visit: Israeli official

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President Donald Trump talks to the media next to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel and the White House are in preliminary discussions about a visit to Israel by U.S. President Donald Trump as early as next month, an Israeli government official said on Wednesday.

A Trump visit would mark an early personal engagement by the new Republican president in efforts to resolve the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Trump in the White House in February, one of the first foreign leaders to do so after the wealthy businessman took office in January, and has spoken of positive change in U.S. Middle East policy after years of friction with Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

“There are preliminary contacts between the (Israeli) Foreign Ministry and the White House and there is a 70 percent chance that a (Trump) presidential visit will happen,” the Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because a trip had not been finalised.

Trump has said he intends to pursue efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. The last round of talks between the two adversaries collapsed in 2014. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is due to see Trump in Washington on May 3.

Praising U.S. policy since Trump entered the White House, Netanyahu has cited in particular a U.S. missile strike in Syria on April 6 in retaliation for what Washington charged was a Syrian government chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held area that killed scores of civilians. Damascus denied responsibility.

Netanyahu had an often tense relationship with Obama over the 2015 U.S.-backed Iran nuclear deal and Israeli settlement building on occupied land that Palestinians want for a state.

His vision for a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unfulfilled, Obama came to Israel twice in his eight years as president – in 2013 and last September for the funeral of Israeli elder statesman Shimon Peres.

Trump, who appeared to surprise Netanyahu at their White House meeting by urging him to curb settlements, is due to make his first overseas visit as president, to Europe in May.

A senior U.S. administration official said last week a stop in Saudi Arabia might be added.

(Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

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