Official: FM's trip will be toughest diplomatic challenge yet; Barak off to Paris for air show.
By HERB KEINON
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman left Sunday for Europe and North America, where he will gauge firsthand the international community's reaction to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's BESA Center address at Bar-Ilan University.
Both Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak missed Netanyahu's speech, as they were both traveling. While Lieberman was headed for Luxembourg, Barak was headed for the Paris Air Show.
One diplomatic source said that Lieberman's trip - first to the annual EU-Israel Association meeting, and then to Washington and Ottawa - will be the new foreign minister's most difficult diplomatic challenge yet.
"So far he has met international statesmen on his own turf, or gone to Russia, which is like his own turf," one diplomatic official said."This time it will be different."
The official noted that while Lieberman had already gone to Italy, France, Germany and England, that was before the government had articulated its policy, and therefore those meetings were polite overall.
This time, the official said, Lieberman will be facing off against the 27 EU foreign ministers, who are expected to pepper him with difficult questions about the settlements, the Gaza crossings, and the roadblocks in the West Bank. He is also expected to come under criticism for some of his party's positions, such as the loyalty oath.
Lieberman, for his part, is expected to take the EU to task for its outreach to Hizbullah, which culminated Saturday with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana's meeting with Hizbullah parliamentarian Hussein Hajj Hassan in Beirut.
Another issue to be raised in Luxembourg will be the stalled upgrade in ties that the EU agreed upon with Israel in December, but which has been put on hold since Operation Cast Lead.
In addition to meeting together with the EU foreign ministers as a group, Lieberman will hold separate talks with the foreign ministers of Poland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Sweden, which will assume the rotating presidency of the EU on July 1.
Lieberman is also expected to meet in Brussels with NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferraro-Waldner.
From Brussels, Lieberman will fly to Washington for his first visit there as foreign minister. He is not scheduled to meet US President Barack Obama, but will meet Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, National Security Advisor James Jones, and congressional leaders from both parties.
By contrast, on his recent visit to Russia he met both with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimr Putin, as well as with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Lieberman will also travel to New York for a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and then to Ottawa for a meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Canon. He is not expected to return to Israel until a week from Tuesday.
Barak, meanwhile, will hold a number of defense industry related meetings at the Paris Air Show, as well as meet with French Defense Minister Herve Morin, and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
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