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(photo credit: AP)
US President George W. Bush places the utmost priority on stopping a nuclear Iran but he needs help, Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) said Monday as he led a bicameral delegation from the United States to discuss security issues with Knesset members.
"In all of the years that I have been coming to Israel, one thing stands out to me above all others as crucial to the security of this country - and that is the need to deal with Iran," Kyl told The Jerusalem Post.
The senator, who has a close relationship with Bush, serves as head of the US-Israel Joint Parliamentary Committee on National Security with MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud).
While some are pushing for the United States to consider a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, Kyl stressed that at this point the US was relying on economic sanctions to deter Iran from pursuing a nuclear arsenal.
"The US has been criticized for taking unilateral action in Iraq," Kyl said. "We would like to see how much support we could get from Europe on Iran to impose very serious and tough economic sanctions. Europe can still put a lot more effort into this."
It was important for Israel to develop defensive capabilities, but hopefully they will not be forced to use them, said Kyl, referring to the newly tested Arrow missile. Kyl was instrumental in securing US funding for the system. On Tuesday, Kyl and the rest of the US delegation will visit an Arrow missile battery at an IDF base in Palmahim and meet with Mossad Chief Meir Dagan.
On Monday, Kyl, Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-California), Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona) and Congressman Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico) met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu.
While Iran was at the focus of the talks, the lawmakers also discussed the future of the road map.
"Congress won't take action on the Palestinian issue," said Kyl. "We will support Rice. There might be funding to the Palestinians. Israel does not have a partner for peace. We will have to wait and see how the new Palestinian government is organized."
He said that it was not clear yet if the Unites States would provide funding to the Palestinian government.
"It is not for Israel or the United States to take initiative right now," said Kyl. "It is up to the Palestinians. People that are pro-Palestinian wish that the US would exert more influence, but the US doesn't have much influence on the Palestinians. What they really mean is that they want the US to convince Israel to make more concessions, and we won't do that."
Harman added that Israel, and especially the road map, was a bipartisan issue that both parties would be strongly supporting through the upcoming elections.
"I don't want to see Israel as a partisan football," said Harman. "The Democrats have always been pro-Israel, and I can't speak for the next president, whoever she or he may be, but the road map has bipartisan support. The road map is a great idea if it can work."
Prior to arriving in Israel, several members of the committee visited Iraq and met with officials there. Kyl described the visit as "cautiously optimistic" and stressed that the US was invested there.
"We are not sure yet if things there are really working, but we believe that they can work," said Kyl. "We also believe that it will become more and more difficult for us to deal with Iran if we fail in Iraq. We cannot fail in Iraq, or there could be a ripple effect to Israel."
Steinitz, who led the visiting American delegation on a tour of the Old City Monday morning, stressed that the friendship of the American lawmakers was crucial to Israel's security.
"This relationship has yielded great and crucial results in the past," said Steinitz. "These ongoing visits highlight the Americans' commitment to Israel."