Obama visits Jerusalem as Israel tour continues

Presidents Obama and Peres in Jerusalem (Photo: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Presidents Obama and Peres in Jerusalem (Photo: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Israel President Shimon Peres has welcomed his American counterpart to Jerusalem on the first day of Barack Obama's trip to Israel.

The two heads of state planted a magnolia tree in the gardens of the presidential residence.

Schoolchildren sang Tomorrow from the musical Annie in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Earlier Mr Obama was shown an Iron Dome missile defence system by Israeli military officers near Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport.

In a short speech after touching down in Israel, the US President said he was honoured to visit the country ahead of its 65th anniversary.

He said: "As I begin my second term as president, Israel is the first stop on my first foreign trip. This is no accident. Across this region the winds of change bring both promise and peril.

"So I see this visit as an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds between our nations, to restate America’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security, and to speak directly to the people of Israel and to your neighbours.

"I want to begin right now, by answering a question that is sometimes asked about our relationship — why? Why does the United States stand so strongly, so firmly with the state of Israel? And the answer is simple.

"We stand together because we share a common story — patriots determined 'to be a free people in our land', pioneers who forged a nation, heroes who sacrificed to preserve our freedom, and immigrants from every corner of the world who renew constantly our diverse societies.

"We stand together because we are democracies. For as noisy and messy as it may be, we know that democracy is the greatest form of government ever devised by man.

"We stand together because it makes us more prosperous. Our trade and investment create jobs for both our peoples. Our partnerships in science and medicine and health bring us closer to new cures, harness new energy and have helped transform us into high-tech hubs of our global economy.

"We stand together because we share a commitment to helping our fellow human beings around the world. When the earth shakes and the floods come, our doctors and rescuers reach out to help. When people are suffering, from Africa to Asia, we partner to fight disease and overcome hunger.

"And we stand together because peace must come to the Holy Land. For even as we are clear-eyed about the difficulty, we will never lose sight of the vision of an Israel at peace with its neighbours.

"So as I begin this visit, let me say as clearly as I can – the United States of America stands with the state of Israel because it is in our fundamental national security interest to stand with Israel. It makes us both stronger. It makes us both more prosperous. And it makes the world a better place."

President Obama is due to hold further meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday evening.

Last updated: 3:46pm, March 20 2013