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Iran likely to dominate talks on sidelines of AIPAC forum

| Sunday, March 2, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

WASHINGTON — When President Obama hosts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Monday, a fundamental division will be on display: Obama is pushing for a nuclear deal with Iran on terms the Israeli leader has rejected.

Obama is closer than ever this year to his campaign goal of a nuclear accord with Iran. As Netanyahu and thousands of pro-Israel Americans visit Washington for the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference, which opens this weekend, Obama's challenge will be to show how an improving relationship with Iran does not damage ties with Israel.

The meeting showcases Israel's unique position among U.S. allies and its strong influence on Capitol Hill. Hundreds of delegates will lobby Congress on issues including Iran, Middle East peace and the effect of the Syrian civil war on Israel. A bipartisan effort to enact additional sanctions on Iran, derailed by the White House but championed by the committee, will be a main topic.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry will address the forum. Obama will not, although he has done so in the past. Lew's department is in charge of enforcing the heavy net of sanctions that helped force Iran to enter serious talks.

An Oval Office visit between the U.S. and Israeli leaders has become customary on the sidelines of the conference.

“The president looks forward to discussing with the prime minister progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, developments in Iran, and other regional priorities,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday.

Obama is expected to press Netanyahu to continue peace talks with the Palestinians as negotiations move into a critical phase.

Israel is due to release a final group of Palestinian prisoners at the end of March under an agreement to get peace talks started last year. It's a politically risky move that has caused Netanyahu trouble within his own government coalition.

The United States wants Netanyahu to stick to the plan, but U.S. and Israeli officials acknowledged last week that he may seek additional concessions.

Palestinians, for their part, are likely to put off taking further steps until the last of the prisoners are free.

Kerry said last week that success depends on each side's will to forge ahead.

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