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Obama speech 'will reflect ties with Israel'

May 19, 2011 6:48 A.M. (Updated: May 19, 2011 10:46 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel has "nothing to worry about" ahead of US President Barack Obama's key speech on the Middle East this evening, a senior US envoy said on Thursday.

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, in Jerusalem for a meeting of the US-Israel Strategic Dialogue, said Obama's speech would reflect strong ties between Washington and Israel.

"I'm confident Israel has nothing to worry about from the president's speech," Steinberg said ahead of the talks.

"The president has long reiterated the strong partnership and the deep ties between our two countries," he said.

"I think his commitment to the region and to the partnership with Israel is something he'll not only speak about today but also in his speech on Sunday," he added, referring to a speech Obama will give to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an Israel lobby group.

Obama is to deliver a key speech Thursday evening on US policy towards the Middle East after a series of political uprisings in the region.

His speech is expected to make reference to the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and will be closely watched by both sides for signs of a new US strategy towards the deadlocked negotiations.

Shortly after Obama's speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves Israel for a six-day trip to Washington, which will include talks with the US president, an address to AIPAC, and a speech before a joint session of the US Congress.

In a joint statement issued after their talks, Steinberg and his Israeli counterpart Danny Ayalon said the dialogue dealt with "rapid changes in the region" but also focused on Iran, calling its nuclear program "one of the greatest challenges we face today in the Middle East."

"Iran's continued non-compliance with its international obligations related to its nuclear program, as well as its continued support for terrorist entities, are of grave concern to our two countries and the entire international community," they said.

Israel and much of the international community believes Iran's nuclear program masks a weapons drive. Tehran denies the accusation and says the programme is solely for civilian energy.
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