Americans can “expect” President Barack Obama to visit Israel during his second term, an aide told reporters on Monday.
Colin Kahl, a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Middle East, was quoted by Politico.com as having said attacks by presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who is visiting Israel on his European swing this week, that Obama hasn’t traveled to Israel are invalid.
“We can expect him to visit Israel on a second term if he is re-elected,” Kahl said.
Politico noted that Kahl did not offer an explanation for why Obama hasn’t visited Israel as president, adding he simply described the U.S.-Israel relationship as “in good shape,” contradicting Romney’s critique.
Kahl did acknowledge that the Obama administration's relations with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government haven't always been great, saying, “We’re all aware of the optics and some of the politics of personal relationships in the last couple years in the U.S. and Israeli relationship.”
Obama’s campaign held the call in an effort to push back against Romney’s trip to Europe and Israel this week, the report said.
Kahl pointed out that Ronald Reagan “never visited Israel and George W. Bush didn’t visit until the final year of his second term” and neither were criticized by Republicans for their travel itinerary.
“I don’t think this is a serious policy difference,” he said. “It’s a distraction.”
Obama appeared in Jerusalem, including a visit to the Western Wall, during his 2008 campaign for president. Virtually all political observers have declared that a visit to Israel before the November elections is a “must” for the president, but another stop at the Western Wall will be tricky given his previous statements that the Old City of Jerusalem, which includes the Wall and Temple Mount, should not be under Israeli sovereignty.
On Sunday, former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton criticized Obama for not visiting Israel as president.
Chiding the president for recently playing his 100th round of golf since taking office, Bolton said, “Obama has been in office three and a half years and he has had time to do more fundraisers than any other first-term American president; has probably played more rounds of golf than any other president since Dwight Eisenhower. And yet he has not had time to fit into his busy schedule even one trip to Israel.”
Romney said last month he would do “the opposite” of Obama and stand firm with Israel.
Speaking to Evangelical Christians, Romney underlined the importance of backing Israel and stopping Iran from achieving nuclear capability. Obama is sounding “like he's more frightened that Israel might take military action than he's concerned that Iran might become nuclear,” he said.
Romney’s upcoming visit was an issue Netanyahu tried to downplay during an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
The Prime Minister said he would not get involved in U.S. election politics and that he will say to Romney “pretty much the same thing I said to the presumptive Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama when I greeted him four years ago, roughly at the same time in the campaign.”