U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel Tuesday and was expected to attend some meetings a day ahead of President Barack Obama's milestone visit, U.S. officials said.
"The secretary is in Israel, in advance of the president's arrival," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland was quoted by AFP as having told reporters in Washington.
She added Kerry was expected to "have a meeting or two, in preparation for the president's arrival" but added the "schedule was being worked out." Obama himself took off from Washington en route to Israel on Tuesday night.
Nuland did not confirm, however, Israeli media reports that Kerry, who will accompany Obama on his three-day trip and travel together to Jordan, would then return to Jerusalem on Saturday to push for renewed peace talks.
The Haaretz newspaper had reported Kerry would have dinner with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Saturday night to sound him out on the prospects of reviving peace efforts with the Palestinian Authority.
Obama's visit on Wednesday will be his first visit to the region as president. Former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said it might help allay the sense of hurt the Israeli public felt when he skipped Israel on a tour of Arab countries in 2009.
"It's a correction of maybe some mistakes that were made four years ago when Mr. Obama came to the region and passed over Israel," which was seen as "an insult" by the Israeli public, Ayalon told journalists, according to AFP.
"One of the purposes of the visit is to blaze the way for Kerry, who we'll see here often," he added.
Reports on Monday indicated that Netanyahu will hold three working meetings with Obama during Obama's three-day visit to Israel.
The original plans called for only one meeting on Wednesday. However, meetings with Netanyahu have been added to Obama's schedule on Thursday and Friday as well.
The Wednesday meeting will be the longest of the three, and it will be followed by a joint news conference by the two leaders. Thursday's meeting will include President Shimon Peres.
Obama recently signaled there would be no big Middle East peace initiative on the table when he arrives in Israel on Wednesday, for his first visit to the region as president.
Last week Obama said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 News that his trip is meant to "listen" to both sides and hear their views on how to move forward after over two years without peace talks.