San Francisco Chronicle
June 3, 2009
President Obama's state visit to the Middle East this week is seen by policy experts to be essential to his outreach to the Muslim world. During this trip, the President is currently in Saudi Arabia and will speak in Cairo, Egypt tomorrow.
During this speech, the President will highlight his administration's attempts to encourage friendly relations with the Muslim world. These policies include the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, additional aid, and a promise to stop trying to "impose American values on traditional societies."
Also playing into the trip is the recent diplomatic standoff the White House has had with its ally Israel. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been hesitant to demolish existent settlements in the West Bank, as President Obama has demanded.
The US is also concerned about Israel's 'obsession' with the Iranian nuclear power program. President Obama made it clear during a BBC interview this week that Iran has the right to nuclear energy. Israel is currently the only nation in the region with nuclear weapons, which has proved a point of contention with the new Obama Administration.
In the light of revelations that Israel is determined to strike Iranian nuclear facilities and will not stop West Bank settlements, the White House will ask for an unprecendented step.
According to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, the President will formally ask for economic sanctions to be placed on Israel if settlements are not ceased in the next sixty days. In order for these sanctions to be effective, they must be approved by Congress, who would likely fight the bill.
The proposed economic sanctions would include a cessation of trade on all non-military goods coming from the United States, including farm equipment, medicine, and foodstuffs. Backers point out that Israel's other trading partners would be able to make up the difference in trading lost.
Support for Israel is mainly bipartisan in the US Congress, with supporters of Israel staunchly opposing any diplomatic punishment. It has been speculated that if the Congress does not cooperate with the President's call for sanctions, Obama will ask the United Nations for a similar set of economic punishments.
If Israel were to strike Iran or launch another attack on Hamas or Hezbollah, the sanctions would become military. This would include the total stoppage of all US military aid and sales, including the F-16 fighter and over $1 billion in direct military grants.
"Keep in mind that these potential sanctions are only to be put in place if Israel continues to defy the international community." Gibbs said in a statement. "The choice is in the Israeli government, particularly with Prime Minister Netanyahu."
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