After talks in US, Barak upbeat on peace process

After meeting Gates, Ross, Biden in Washington, defense minister says delegitimization poses threat equally to Hizbullah.

December 14, 2010 09:28
2 minute read.
Ehud Barak with US Sec. of Defense Robert Gates

Ehud Barak with Robert Gates 311 AP. (photo credit: AP)

WASHINGTON – Defense Minister Ehud Barak came away from several days of meetings with US officials confident that there would be progress in restarting talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

“We will have serious discussions in the coming months on security, borders, Jerusalem, refugees,” he told Israeli reporters in Washington Monday. “The mechanisms will be resolved in the coming weeks.”

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Though Barak received a rebuke from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when, in a speech in Washington Friday night, he said that Jerusalem would need to be divided in a final peace agreement – which Netanyahu denied was government policy – the defense minister played down the exchange Monday.

“We don’t need to reveal all our positions before negotiations,” he said, though he reaffirmed his comments before the Saban Forum on Friday.

Barak spent Monday meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, CIA director Leon Panetta, senior White House adviser Dennis Ross and Vice President Joe Biden after spending Sunday in New York.

He said the conversation with Gates had focused on the strong American commitment to Israel’s security and the need to maintain its qualitative military edge (QME).

In the meeting, Barak raised Jerusalem’s fears that as Syria continued to arm Hizbullah with sophisticated weaponry, it could damage Israel’s QME in the region, according to a statement from the defense minister’s office.

They also discussed Iran, missile defense and the situation in Lebanon surrounding the expected release of the Hariri tribunal indictments.

“This was their sixth meeting this year, and today’s talks touched on everything from the recent wildfires in Israel, to ongoing peace process efforts, to the challenges posed by Iran,” Gates’s press secretary Geoff Morrell said in a statement. He described the discussion as touching on “a range of bilateral and regional security issues.”

Barak also discussed Iran with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sunday, telling him that while Israel always reserved the right to self defense, at this point there was more time for sanctions to work.

“It’s still at the stage of diplomacy,” he said. “I still believe that much more active sanctions can cause the Iranian regime to have a second thought.” He also said that the WikiLeaks revelation of Arab leaders’ concern about Iran and even support for military action could actually be counter-productive.

“The exposure of the nuances, the wording of such utterances might not contribute to the capacity to deal with sensitive issues in a proper manner,” he said.

Speaking to Israeli reporters Monday, Barak described the message from Gates and other American officials with whom he’d met as an American commitment to Israel’s security in a way that was “perhaps stronger than ever.”

But he also emphasized that Israel faced another serious strategic threat that shouldn’t be dismissed: the delegitimization campaign.

“Delegitimization is a threat no less than Hamas or Hizbullah,” he warned.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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