There is a "conflict of interest" in a settler conducting negotiations over the settlements, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman implied Monday, in a surprise explanation as to why Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and not he, was conducting negotiations on the settlement issue with the US. In a Knesset press conference, Lieberman, a resident of the small settlement of Nokdim in the Judean Desert, said, "I think that from my standpoint there is clearly a conflict of interest. Someone who lives in a small isolated settlement, not even among the settlement blocks, for me to deal with that issue is clearly a conflict of interest, and I would not want them to blame me afterward for intentionally torpedoing important diplomatic negotiations." Lieberman said that Israel's ties with the US were more important than "the honor of the foreign minister." Lieberman said he would not want it to be said that because he was "a settler" he wanted to make the negotiations fail, thereby "endangering Israel's relations with the US." One senior government source said that this explanation was hard to digest, since Lieberman surely knew before he took on the job as foreign minister that he would be dealing with the settlement issue. "It sounds to me like an excuse for being shunted aside on this issue," the official said, pointing out that "settlers" have dealt with the issue before, including former ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor, who lives in Kfar Adumim.