Israel-US strategic talks on hold

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's dramatic decision to leave the Likud Monday has deferred an already long-delayed strategic dialogue with the US. Minister Tzahi Hanegbi, who last month was tabbed as the head of the Israeli team to the talks, was reportedly slated to leave Monday night for the US. However, following Sharon's surprise move, diplomatic officials said that the talks would take place next week. Even though Hanegbi has temporarily replaced Sharon as Likud chairman, the officials said he was still scheduled to head the Israeli delegation. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom announced in October the renewal of the strategic dialogue which had been frozen for more than two years, reportedly because of the crisis over Israeli arms sales to China. That crisis was resolved earlier in the year. The purpose of the dialogue is to step back from the everyday issues and establish a framework where wider, strategic issues can be discussed in depth. In addition to Hanegbi, the Israeli team is also expected to include Foreign Ministry Director-General Ron Prosor. The US team is expected to be led by Nick Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs.