ashkenazi in US 224 .
(photo credit: Ron Sachs\IDF)
Recent talks the United States held with Iran are aimed at creating legitimacy for a potential attack against Iranian nuclear facilities, defense officials speculated on Sunday as Defense Minister Ehud Barak headed to Washington for talks with senior administration officials.
Barak will travel to Washington and New York and will hold talks with his counterpart Robert Gates, Vice President Dick Cheney, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Officials said it was likely that President George W. Bush would join the meeting between Barak and Hadley. On Wednesday, Barak will fly to New York for a brief meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon.
Barak's departure to the US came as IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi returned to Israel on Sunday from a week-long visit to the US as Mullen's guest. Ashkenazi held talks with Cheney, Hadley and other senior officials with a focus on the Iranian nuclear program.
"There is a lot of strategic thinking concerning Iran going on right now but no one has yet to make a decision what to do," said a top IDF officer, involved in the dialogue between Israel and the US. "We are still far away from the point where military officers are poring over maps together planning an operation."
In recent weeks, Mullen has said publicly that he is opposed to military action against Iran which would open a "third front" for the US military which is currently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Barak's talks in the US come a little over a week after the Bush administration sent its number three diplomat to Geneva to participate in European Union talks with Iran over its nuclear program.
The move led to reports that the US was changing its isolation tactic vis-Ã -vis Iran but Israeli defense officials speculated Sunday that the move was really a ploy to buy international support in the event that Bush decides to attack Iran in his last months in office.
"This way they will be able to say they tried everything," one official speculated. "This increases America's chances of gaining more public support domestically as well as the support of European nations which are today opposed to military action."
Diplomatic officials have speculated that the Iran-US talks were also connected to the presidential elections.
According to the IDF officer, the frequent meetings between Israel and the US in recent weeks - Mullen was in Israel in June - is a sign of the strong ties between the two countries as well as the mutual interest both take in different regional issues such as Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas and Syria.