Israel, US hold 'useful' talks on aid

State Dept. official tells 'Post' US agrees with Israeli security assessments.

nicholas burns 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
nicholas burns 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
The first meeting between the United States and Israel to work out a new aid package for the latter was "extremely useful," according to a senior State Department official who spoke to The Jerusalem Post soon after the five-hour interchange ended. Israel is arguing that expanded strategic threats, such as a nuclear Iran, Hizbullah's capabilities and Hamas's influence, necessitate additional military assistance. The current 10-year aid program expires this year and Israeli officials are looking to replace it with a new decade-long plan. The official told the Post that the US agrees with Israeli security assessments. "There's a general consensus about the problems we face, the threats that exist," he said, adding that Thursday's discussions were particularly helpful in terms of getting more perspective from the Israelis on how they've been affected by security issues such as the war on the northern front and the second Intifada. "We're strategic partners, and in that sense it was extremely useful," he said. "We got a greater level of granularity about the specifics." He added, however, that the amount of aid to be given was not discussed. "We did not talk about dollar figures. It's way too premature," he said. A statement put out by Israel and the United States noted the early nature of these consultations. "The United States and Israel attach the highest importance to this meeting, which is the first in a series of discussions to develop specific assistance by the United States to Israel," the statement read. "The meeting today is another manifestation of the unshakable commitment by the United States to Israel's security and a step towards fortifying and enhancing the strategic relationship between our two countries." Economic aid to Israel has already been phased out and military assistance will stand at $2.4 billion at the end of the current program. In addition to a boost in military aid, there are other avenues, such as cooperation on research projects, by which the United States could increase assistance. The inter-departmental American team was headed by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, and the Israelis were led by Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer and Finance Minister Director-General Yarom Ariav.