On Israel trip, Obama to get medal

On Israel trip, Obama to get medal
Monday, February 18, 2013 - 6:31pm

(CNN) -- When President Barack Obama visits Israel next month, he'll be awarded the Presidential Medal of Distinction, Israeli President Shimon Peres' office announced Monday.

Obama, the first sitting U.S. president to receive the recognition, will be awarded the medal for making "a unique and significant contribution to strengthening the State of Israel and the security of its citizens," according to a release announcing the news.

He'll receive the award at a dinner at Peres' residence in Jerusalem, slated to be attended by senior figures from Israeli public life and the Obama administration. The award is given to private individuals and organizations that have made "outstanding contributions to bettering the world."

Previous winners of the award include former Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger, the Music Director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Attorney Uri Slonim, and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.

It's not the first time the two presidents have exchanged awards. Obama bestowed Peres the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, last year at the White House. Twelve others also received the award in 2012.

The Medal of Distinction comes as Obama makes his first trip to Israel as president--a trip expected to receive wide attention in light of the Obama administration's at-times turbulent relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Despite getting off to a rocky start with Netanyahu by pushing for a comprehensive freeze of Israeli settlements, Obama's vocal support for Netanyahu through the November crisis with Gaza and U.S. financial support for the "Iron Dome" anti-missile program, could pave the road for greater trust in the relationship, and more flexibility from Netanyahu when it comes to the disputed Iranian nuclear program.

And in his State of the Union address last week, Obama said when he travels to the Middle East, he'll deliver a message signaling that the U.S. will "stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace."

-- CNN National Security Producer Jamie Crawford contributed to this report.

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