US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns is slated to head the American side negotiating Israel's new aid package, according to sources in Washington. The designation of the number three in the State Department as the team leader indicates the seriousness with which the Bush administration regards the talks, said individuals close to the issue. The State Department, however, declined to confirm Burns's participation in the talks. The Americans will be meeting later in the week with a high-level Israeli delegation that arrived in Washington Monday to begin preliminary discussions on a new plan to replace the 10-year funding program once it ends in 2008.
Ayalon: Israel should seek more US military, but not civilian, aid
Israel is hoping to see a boost in funding, which should consist of $2.4 billion in military aid next year, because of needs it views as stemming from expanded strategic threats. The argument is that September 11, the Iranian nuclear project and Hizbullah's actions last summer have all heightened awareness in the White House of the importance of bolstering Israel militarily.
That, in turn, creates a different strategic framework for the current discussions than existed when the last aid package was hammered out under then Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the late 1990s.
As with that package, Washington sources said they expect to see a 10-year plan with about 75 percent of the aid directed at US military purchases and a quarter left for Israel to choose to use in its own military industries - a benefit that most countries receiving military aid don't enjoy.
The sources didn't offer a final funding tally for the package, saying that this week's meeting wasn't intended to yield a specific figure, but did rule out a request for civilian aid.
Under the expiring 10-year plan, economic aid was gradually phased out while military aid increased. The strength of the Israeli economy has made continued civilian aid - generally given to poor countries - a tough sell.
Israel emphasizes security needs and understands it has to prove to the US administration that the country has done its share to shoulder the costs it faces.
The US-Israel aid discussions will be followed by a meeting of the Joint Economic Development Group to discuss loan guarantees. Since Congress has approved the $4.5 billion through 2012, sources told The Jerusalem Post they expect the meetings to be maintenance-oriented, focusing on the state of the Israeli economy and the conditions of the loan guarantees.