Gates arrives in Israel to discuss Iran, peace talks

US Defense Secretary plans to meet Barak, Peres, Netanyahu and Fayyad; official: Peace talks must continue despite escalation.

Gates 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Gates 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
TEL AVIV, March 24 (Reuters) - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Israel on Thursday in the wake of a deadly bombing that could complicate his planned efforts to press Israeli and Palestinian leaders to restart peace talks.
Gates, who called the bombing "a horrific terrorist attack", was expected to use his visit to discuss regional security concerns including Iran, but also to urge the resumption of peace talks stalled since September 2010.
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The defense secretary was due to meet Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak and President Shimon Peres on Thursday. On Friday, he will meet Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
A senior US defense official, briefing reporters ahead of the trip and the bombing, said Washington believed Israel needed to get ahead of a wave of unrest sweeping the region by advancing peace efforts.
Although uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya were focusing for now on domestic political and economic grievances, that could change, the official suggested.
"(Gates) will make the general argument that ... the Israelis have a very deep strategic interest in getting out in front of the wave of populism that's sweeping the region," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Showing real progress on the peace track with the Palestinians would put them in a much better position for where the region's likely to be in six months or a year from now."
Gates is fresh from a visit to Egypt, where longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak was toppled in an uprising last month. He was in Bahrain less than two weeks ago, urging reform there.
On Wednesday in Cairo, Gates expressed amazement at the speed with which the revolts have spread "regardless of the diversity of the governments involved".