Obama, Netanyahu Talk Nuclear Iran, Mideast Politics

Obama works public and back channels to renew Israeli relationship.

President Barack Obama is shown with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during Obama's arrival ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, March 20, 2013.

President Barack Obama is shown with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during Obama's arrival ceremony Wednesday at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel.

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Diplomacy was on display Wednesday as President Barack Obama made his first presidential trip to Israel, meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres and newly re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Obama and Netanyahu vacillated from talking seriously about the threat of a nuclear Iran and Israel's right to defend itself to joking about their families. The pair have had a rocky relationship in the past but now, thanks to the will of voters in each of their respective countries, are forced to forge ahead together addressing issues such as Iran, Syria and the Middle East peace process, which has stalled of late.

"Israel has no better friend than the United States of America," Netanyahu said during a joint appearance in Jerusalem, following the pair's 10th meeting.

He thanked Obama for his work to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and reaffirmed Israel's support for a two-state solution in the Middle East.

"I want to thank you once again for always making clear that Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, against any threat," Netanyahu said. "Israel has no better friend than the United States of America."

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Obama also reaffirmed the importance of a strong relationship between the two countries.

"We've spent more time together, working together than I have with any leader and this speaks to the closeness of our two nations; the interests and the values that we share and the depth and breadth of the ties between our two people," he said.

Earlier in the day, Obama also made public statements alongside Peres, who also highlighted his support for Obama's approach to preventing a nuclear Iran.

"The greatest danger is a nuclear Iran," Peres said. "We trust your policy, which calls to first fight by non-military means with a clear statement that other options remain on the table. You made it clear that your intention is not to contain but to prevent."

Michael Singh, managing director at the Washington Institute, a D.C.-based think tank focused on U.S. policy in the Middle East, says Obama's trip is operating on two tracks – public and private.

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"Publicly, I think the president is going to be at pains to demonstrate his support for Israel and try to connect in a sense or reassure the Israeli public that he's not as cool on Israel as he's made out to be," he says. "But at the end of the day, these alliances are about shared interests, not just friendships or affinity for one another; they are about acting together. This is going to take place in the private conversations between Netanyahu and Obama."

The private aspect of the trip is the most meaningful, Singh adds.

"Does it sound like he and Netanyahu have gotten on the same page with respect to the key national security issues – Iran and Syria and so forth?" he says. "The U.S. and Israel will always have disagreements on these issues as well as the peace process issues. The thing people will be looking for is, are we working on those disagreements in kind of a friendly way behind the scenes or are they going to continue the public sparring over them?"

Obama will also have to convince Netanyahu, as well as King Abdullah of Jordan and Palestinian leaders that the U.. will stay engaged in the region, despite announcing a "pivot" to Asia, Singh says.

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Former Sen. Norm Coleman, a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, says Obama is hitting all the right notes.

"Right now he's doing all the right things – they symbolic things, in what he's saying, 'Israel has no greater friend than the United States,'" he says. "Ultimately, he's going to be judged by his actions."

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