Upon takeoff for US, Netanyahu vows to ‘stand firm on I$raHelL’s vital interests’

PM leaves Israel for US, where he will meet with Obama; says he will “deflect pressure” amid “unprecedented regional turmoil.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s message before boarding his plane for Washington Sunday and his meeting Monday with US President Barack Obama is that Israel has successfully withstood strong pressure over the last few years, and will continue to do so.
“I am leaving for an important trip to the US,” Netanyahu said before taking off for a five day visit to Washington and California. “I will meet President Obama, and we will discuss Iran and the diplomatic process. I will stand firm on Israel’s vital interests, first and foremost security.”
Over the last few years, Netanyahu said, “Israel came under pressures, and we deflected them amid unprecedented regional turmoil. We maintained stability and security. That is the way it was, and that is the way it will be.”
Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama comes as Iran and the Palestinian issue are taking a back seat in Washington to the crisis in Ukraine.
Neither Netanyahu nor the Foreign Ministry has issued any statement concerning the dramatic developments in Ukraine, although the situation facing Ukraine’s Jews has been raised in high-level meetings.
One government official said that the Netanyahu-Obama meeting on Monday is still set to focus on Iran and the Palestinians, despite the mounting US tension with Russia. The main impact of the Ukrainian crisis on Netanyahu’s five-day visit will likely be less media attention, the official said.
The prime minister is also scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry and with congressional leaders.
He is slated to address the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference on Tuesday, a day after Kerry is to speak at the gathering.
Netanyahu’s meetings with Obama and Kerry will come some four weeks before Israel is scheduled to release the last tranche of 26 Palestinian security prisoners as part of the framework agreed upon last July to get the PLO to return to the negotiating table. It is expected that Kerry will try to present his much-anticipated document that is to serve as a basis for continued talks between the two sides before the prisoner release.
Kerry is expected to travel back to Israel in mid-March for another round of shuttle diplomacy, following Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu and an expected meeting in Washington with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

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