Lieberman to miss Mitchell, Gates visits

'Disengaged' from US ties, FM is scheduled to go on tour of Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Colombia.

Lieberman whoa hold it right there 248.8 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Lieberman whoa hold it right there 248.8
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will be out of the country for most of next week when two major US policy makers, Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, arrive for key talks, a sign he only has a supporting role right now in Jerusalem's ties with the US. Instead of being here to meet with Mitchell and Gates, Lieberman left Monday evening for a 10-day visit to Latin America, where he will travel to Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Colombia. This is the first time an Israeli foreign minister has travelled to Latin America since 1987, attesting to the importance that Lieberman gives to strengthening diplomatic relations with countries that Israel has had a tendency to neglect in the past, while placing most of its diplomatic emphasis on the US and Europe. Later this summer he is scheduled to travel to Africa. Lieberman essentially "disengaged" from the US-led diplomatic process earlier this month, when he said it would be a conflict of interest for someone who lives in the settlement of Nokdim to deal with the future of the settlements. "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 blocs, 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," he said. 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 with the US over a settlement freeze fail, thereby "endangering Israel's relations with the US." His comments came amid widespread speculation at the time as to why Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and not Lieberman, was leading the negotiations with Mitchell. Mitchell is scheduled to arrive next Sunday, and Gates is expected the following day for a brief visit. Among the issues Lieberman will raise in his Latin American trip are the inroads Iran and Hizbullah have made in the region in recent years. According to a Foreign Ministry document written in May, Hugo Chavez's Venezuela helped Iran bypass UN Security Council economic sanctions, and also, along with Bolivia, was providing the Iranians with uranium. According to the document, Iran moved into Latin America in 1982, through Cuba, and eventually opened a number of embassies in the region, in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela and Uruguay. Teheran developed extensive economic ties with these countries that continue to this day. Iran recently opened new embassies in Bolivia and Nicaragua, and Bolivia as well as Venezuela broke off diplomatic ties with Israel after Operation Cast Lead earlier this year. In May, Lieberman took partial credit for blocking Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's scheduled trip to South America, saying Israel worked through a number of diplomatic channels to express its displeasure at the planned trip. Ahmadinejad had planned to visit Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador. Meanwhile, Lieberman will be accompanied on his trip by a delegation of technology, communications and agriculture executives, who will try to advance Israeli business ties in Latin America. While in France, Britain and the US, Lieberman met with his counterpart, but not with the prime minister or president. In South America, he will be meeting the president in each of the four countries he visits. Lieberman is not due back until July 30.