On the even of President Barak Obama’s visit this week to Israel, a spokesman defended his choice not to address the Knesset and instead speak at the Jerusalem International Convention Center to address university students.
In a March 14 conference call with reporters, Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, acknowledged the president had “a deep respect for the Knesset as the seat of Israeli democracy” but preferred to speak “not just to political leadership…but to the Israeli public and Israeli young people.”
Two previous presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, addressed the Israeli parliament during state visits to Israel.
The speech before students was to be one of many items on a busy presidential itinerary scheduled for March 20-22.
It included private meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an inspection tour of an Iron Dome battery.
On Thursday, Obama was scheduled to meet in Ramallah with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority for a private discussion and a press conference. “It’s a chance to discuss our continued support for the PA, as well as to discuss ways to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace going forward,” said Rhodes.
After returning to speak in Jerusalem and visit Yad Vashem and the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Israel Museum, the president and his entourage was to fly to Amman on Friday for talks with King Abdullah of Jordan.
“We could have just gone to Israel and the West Bank,” said Rhodes, but the President felt like it was important to go to Jordan because we cooperate with the Jordanians on Israeli-Arab peace, as well as on counterterrorism and a range of other security issues.
“Jordan has been a key partner of the United States” in supporting the opposition forces against President Bashir al-Assad’s government in Syria, he said.
The United States is also helping Jordan to dealing with the refugee crisis, assome 330,000 Syrians who fled the year-long civil war in their neighboring country have flooded into the kingdom.
Rhodes said the administration believes that political and economic reforms are alternatives to rule by Islamic fundamentalists or authoritarian dictators.
“King Abdullah understands the need for political and economic reform within his country,” he said, adding that the king “is sincere and consistent in calling for those types of reforms, and that is going to involve an opening up of the political process.”