JERUSALEM: Barack Obama will become the first serving US president to receive Israel’s presidential medal, from his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres on a visit to the Jewish state next month, Peres’s office said yesterday.
“President Obama has made a unique and meaningful contribution to strengthening the state of Israel and the security of its people,” it said in a statement.
“Barack Obama is a true friend of the state of Israel and has been since the beginning of his public life. As president of the United States he has stood beside Israel in times of crisis,” it added.
Israel’s presidential medal of distinction is awarded to individuals or organisations who have contributed to Israeli society and Israel’s image in the world.
The White House has not announced specific dates for the Obama visit, his first to Israel and the West Bank as president.
Israeli media reports and a Palestinian official have said that it will run from March 20-22 and take in talks with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah.
The White House has kept expectations deliberately low, saying Obama has no plans to use the trip to push new proposals to break the more than two-year deadlock in peace talks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that his talks with Obama would focus on Iran’s nuclear programme, the conflict in Syria and long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.