Barak wants initiative on US ties

Peres praises Russian shift on Iran just before Lavrov visit.

June 29, 2010 03:04
4 minute read.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

ehud barak 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

An agreed upon “diplomatic horizon” with the US is necessary to ensure a long-term “special security relationship” with the US, as well as Israel’s military superiority in the region, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday, prodding the Netanyahu government toward initiating an “assertive” diplomatic plan.

Fresh from talks in Washington with everyone from US Vice President Joe Biden to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Barak told a Labor party faction meeting that “momentum in the diplomatic process is essential and possible, and we will need to determine if it is possible inside the government as it is today, or whether it will necessitate [the government’s] expansion.”

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Either way, Barak said, only a “decisive Israeli effort” to break the diplomatic stalemate “can free Israel from the international siege” that has grown worse in the last few months and which was manifested by the international community’s harsh reaction to the Gaza flotilla episode.

Later in the day, in a conference at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies marking 10 years since the withdrawal from Lebanon – carried out when he was prime minister – Barak spoke about parallels between the withdrawal and the disengagement from Gaza five years later, saying: “Israel will have to take additional unilateral steps.”

Earlier in the day at the Labor faction meeting, Barak said there was close and intimate security cooperation between Israel and the US, and that on the diplomatic plane, both parties were waiting for the next steps.

“We are dealing with this intensively,” Barak said, “and I don’t think we need incentives either from the outside or inside to do so. The conclusion that I have been saying now for weeks is that only close relations with the US that are based on an agreed-upon diplomatic horizon will ensure in the long-run the special security relationship between us and the US, and Israel’s military superiority in the region.”

Barak stops short of issuing Netanyahu ultimatum

On the eve of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s trip to Washington next week to meet with US President Barack Obama, Barak said that an Israel that initiates an assertive diplomatic policy is an Israel that would be received differently in various international forums and would have more room to maneuver in dealing with its security concerns. He also said that a government that initiates such a plan would enjoy wider domestic support.

Barak, however, stopped well short of issuing an ultimatum to the Netanyahu government to either come up with a plan or face a coalition crisis with Labor, saying everyone knows that with the settlement construction moratorium set to expire at the end of September and the US going to midterm elections in November, the next few months will be “certainly important.”

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said Barak’s position about the need to initiate a far-reaching diplomatic plan to ensure close ties with the US was well known, and something he had been talking about for months, including during cabinet meetings. The sources would not divulge, however, whether Netanyahu was taking any new diplomatic initiative to Washington to present to Obama when they meet next Tuesday.

In a related development, President Shimon Peres used a reception with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves on Monday to praise Russia for adopting a more aggressive policy on Iran. Peres’s comments came just before Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov landed for meetings in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Peres praised Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for having characterized as “worrying” on Sunday at the G-20 meeting in Toronto US assessments that Iran could build a nuclear weapon within two years.

“There is no doubt that this declaration cannot be taken lightly, because until now, Russia had doubts about Iran’s seriousness and ability to build a nuclear bomb,” Peres said. “Therefore, Medvedev’s declaration is a serious change, and Israel appreciates this development.”

Lavrov, who soon after his arrival met with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu) and then with opposition head Tzipi Livni (Kadima), is scheduled to meet separately on Tuesday with Netanyahu, Peres, Barak and again with Lieberman before going to Ramallah for meetings with the Palestinian Authority leadership.

Livni’s office released a statement saying that before their meeting, Lavrov had said there was an “urgent necessity to get out of the current diplomatic stalemate and to the solution of the establishment of a Palestinian state. Livni has an important role and important positions in this regard.”

Regarding Iran, Lavrov was quoted as saying that Iran needed to limit its uranium enrichment, in line with the decisions of the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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