WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed the importance of
Israel reaching a path to reconciliation with Turkey during an hour-long meeting
with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday, Barak’s office said.
issue also came up in talks Barak held earlier in the day at the White House
with Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Adviser Tom
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Washington – which believes a strong US-Israel-Turkey is
critical for Middle East stability – has brought pressure to bear on both
Jerusalem and Ankara to find a formula to end the crisis over the Mavi Marmara,
according to diplomatic officials.
Barak has come out as the key advocate
in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s inner forum urging Israel to take steps
necessary to bring about a normalization of ties with Turkey.
demanding Israel apologize for May 2010’s Mavi Marmara raid, pay compensation to
the families of the nine men killed, and lift the naval blockade of the Gaza
The Palestinian issue was also discussed in Barak’s talks,
specifically efforts to find a formula that would enable the restarting of
negotiations with the Palestinians. During the discussion with Clinton, Barak’s
statement said, they spoke of the need to continue to strengthen and support
economic development in the West Bank in order to prevent deterioration there and a return to
Later on Thursday, Barak was due to meet with new US Defense
Secretary Leon Panetta in a discussion expected to focus on regional threats,
particularly the prospect of a nuclear Iran, and the implications of the
upheaval roiling the Middle East.
Barak, who is due to visit with UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Friday, was also meeting with key
legislators dealing with foreign aid on Capitol Hill on Thursday
He was scheduled to discuss the US-Israel bilateral
relationship and ongoing American assistance to Israel with Reps. Kay Granger
(RTexas) and Nita Lowey (D-New York), the chairwoman and ranking member,
respectively, of the House subcommittee for foreign appropriations.
subcommittee passed by voice vote on Wednesday a budget for next year that would
reduce the overall foreign operations budget by 18 percent, but leave more than
$3 billion in aid for Israel untouched.
The bill is scheduled to be
considered by the whole committee next week, days before Congress leaves for its
summer recess, but the vote might get scrapped until Congress reconvenes in the
Also on Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon, two senior State
Department officials blasted Syria’s and Iran’s human rights records and
defended the Obama administration’s policy as supporting dissidents trying to
make change in their countries.
“Our concerns about these countries’
horrendous human rights abuses are longstanding, but never has their repression
been more flagrantly at odds with the realities of the region – the
irrepressible demands for democracy and fundamental human rights that have
already swept two leaders from power,” Assistant Secretary of State for Near
East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights
Michael Posner said in written testimony presented ahead of Wednesday’s
They underscored American efforts to combat such practices with
sanctions and the vigilance of US Ambassador to Damascus Robert
“Going forward, the United States will expand our efforts to answer
the call of Syrian and Iranian citizens that their governments be held
accountable for their actions,” they said.
Pointing to their work with
local civil society groups, they continued, “Our efforts to support the Iranian
and Syrian people as they seek to exercise their rights have been consistent and
Many, however, disagree with that assessment, as even some
allies of the administration have been critical of it for not doing enough to
support opposition groups in these countries and for leaving much of the heavy
lifting, such as providing communications devices and alternative networks, to
NGOs and private groups.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York), ranking member
of the Middle East House subcommittee holding Wednesday’s hearing, took aim at
the US posture on Syria despite being of the same party as the
“We are far from weak, powerless or isolated. But with
regard to Syria, we have, nonetheless, failed to act,” he said, comparing the
situation to the inaction that led to the extermination of Eastern European
Jewry during the Holocaust.
“I have tried to explain our policy to
Syrian-Americans, almost trembling with anxiety for their relatives, and I have
failed, principally, I think, because our policy is so completely incoherent,”
“Somehow, it manages to combine colossal moral failure and
unimaginable strategic imbecility with the overpowering stench of hypocrisy,
thanks to our feckless intervention in Libya. Congratulations, gentlemen, you’ve
hit the policy failure trifecta.”
He warned, “History will record not
only how we mostly ignored the people of Syria in their hour of need, but worse,
how we overlooked our own blindingly obvious national interests in the demise of
the Assad regime.”