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On Mideast trip, Obama aims to keep troubles at bay

President also seeks to reset relationship with Netanyahu

An Israeli soldier confronted protesters in the West Bank. The White House sees a chance to create space for conversations about what it will take to restart negotiations.

ABED AL HASHLAMOUN /EPA

An Israeli soldier confronted protesters in the West Bank. The White House sees a chance to create space for conversations about what it will take to restart negotiations.

WASHINGTON — When President Obama steps into the Middle East’s political cauldron this week, he won’t be seeking any grand resolution for the region’s vexing problems.

His goal will be trying to keep the troubles, from Iran’s suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon to the bitter discord between Israelis and Palestinians, from boiling over on his watch.

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Obama arrives in Jerusalem on Wednesday for his first trip to Israel as president. His first priority will be resetting his oft-troubled relationship with now-weakened Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and evaluating the new coalition government Netanyahu laboriously cobbled together.

The president also will look to boost his appeal to a skeptical Israeli public, as well as to frustrated Palestinians.

For much of Obama’s first term, White House officials saw little reason for him to go to the region without a realistic chance for a peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinians. But with the president’s one attempt at a US-brokered deal thwarted in his first term and the two sides even more at odds, the White House has shifted its thinking.

Officials now see the lowered expectations as a chance to create space for frank conversations between Obama and both sides about what it will take to get back to the negotiating table.

The president will use his face-to-face meetings to ‘‘persuade both sides to refrain from taking provocative unilateral actions that could be self-defeating,’’ said Haim Malka, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The trip gives Obama the opportunity to meet Netanyahu on his own turf, and that could help ease the tension that has at times defined their relationship.

The leaders have tangled over Israeli settlements and how to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Netanyahu also famously lectured the president in front of the media during a 2011 meeting in the Oval Office, and later made no secret of his fondness for Republican challenger Mitt Romney in last year’s presidential campaign.

Beyond Mideast peace, the two leaders have similar regional goals, including ending the violence in Syria and containing the political tumult in Egypt, which has a decades-old peace treaty with Israel.

The president’s trip comes at a time of political change for Israel. Netanyahu’s power was diminished in January elections and he struggled to form a government. He finally reached a deal on Friday with rival parties.

Among topics for discussion with Israel will be the next steps in dealing with Iran’s disputed nuclear program, which the West says is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

Israel repeatedly has threatened to take military action should Iran appear to be on the verge of obtaining a bomb. The United States has pushed for more time to allow diplomacy and economic penalties to run their course, though Obama insists military action is an option.

Another central difference between the allies on Iran is the timetable for possible military action.

Netanyahu, in a speech to the United Nations in September, said Iran was about six months away from being able to build a bomb. Obama told an Israeli television station this past week that the United States thinks it would take ‘‘over a year or so for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon.’’

Obama’s visit to Israel may quiet critics in the United States who interpreted his failure to travel there in his first term as a sign that he was less supportive of the Jewish state than his predecessors.

The centerpiece of Obama’s visit will be a speech in Jerusalem to an audience mainly of Israeli students. It is part of the president’s effort to appeal to the Israeli public, particularly young people.

He will make several cultural stops, all steeped in symbolism, in the region. They include the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem; Mount Herzl, where he will lay wreaths at the graves of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, and Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister who was assassinated in 1995 by a Jewish extremist who opposed Rabin’s policy of trading land with the Palestinians for peace; and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a revered site for Christians.

In a sign of the close military ties between the United States and Israel, Obama will view an Iron Dome battery, part of the missile defense system the United States has helped pay for.

Obama will also travel to the West Bank and meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah. Obama and Fayyad will visit a Palestinian youth center, another attempt to reach the region’s young people.

Obama will make a 24-hour stop in Jordan, an important US ally, where the president’s focus will be on the violence in neighboring Syria. More than 450,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan, crowding refugee camps and overwhelming aid organizations.

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