POLITICS: White House

Obama aide Susan Rice to hold meetings in Israel

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Politics,White House

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, arrives in Israel this week for high-profile talks that come against the backdrop of rising hopes for an Iranian nuclear deal and faltering U.S.-led peace talks with the Palestinians.

Rice's trip — her first to Israel since assuming her White House post last year — has been long planned. She's leading a contingent of U.S. officials the State and Treasury departments, Pentagon and intelligence community who hold regular discussions with their Israeli counterparts.

But the Iranian negotiations in particular are expected to factor into Rice's talks Wednesday and Thursday, particularly her meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader has been vocal critic of the U.S.-led nuclear negotiations with Iran, accusing Tehran of using the talks as a stalling tactic while it pursues a nuclear weapon.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that Rice's meetings will not produce "any new development on the Iran front."

"It's an opportunity for representatives from the United States and Israel at high levels to discuss that issue, among many others," Carney said.

The U.S. and its negotiating partners — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — reached an interim nuclear accord with Iran late last year and are now holding delicate discussions on a final deal. Nuclear experts from each country were meeting in New York this week ahead of higher level talks scheduled in Vienna next week.

While the talks have yielded some positive signs, the toughest issues must still be negotiated and any deal could fall apart.

Obama and other top U.S. officials have sought to convince Israel that the talks represent the best option for resolving the international community's dispute with Iran peacefully. Israel sees the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat and has resisted any suggestions that Tehran could be left with some nuclear capacity.

Iran says it is not seeking a bomb and is instead pursuing a peaceful nuclear program.

Despite being one of Obama's closest foreign policy advisers, Rice has kept a relatively low-key public profile on both the Iran and Mideast peace issues, allowing Secretary of State John Kerry to serve as the administration's primary spokesman on the matters. Kerry has played a particularly hands-on role in the U.S.-brokered peace talks, shuttling to the region frequently in an effort to jumpstart the stalled process.

But those talks broke down last month after Israel didn't release a fourth batch of promised Palestinian prisoners and refused to freeze settlement building on land Palestinians want for a future state. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas then sought recognition for "a state of Palestine" in 15 international treaties, breaking a previous commitment.

It appears unlikely that Rice will make a significant effort to restart the talks while in Israel. The State Department said last week that U.S. envoy for Mideast peace Martin Indyk had come home from the region and had no immediate plans to return.

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