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Israeli Chief of Staff Meets with Top Officials at Pentagon

With Wednesday’s U.S. attack on Iraq as a backdrop, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff met with top Pentagon officials here Thursday.

Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak exchanged views with the Americans on the situation in Iraq, the balance of power in the Middle East, the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and the peace process, according to Israeli Embassy spokeswoman Ruth Yaron.

Neither Yaron nor a Pentagon spokesman would specify exactly what was discussed, but they both characterized the meetings as positive.

Yaron said Barak characterized the meetings as “very warm, very friendly, very attuned to Israel’s needs.” She added that the IDF chief felt the Americans are “aware of Israel’s value as a democratic stabilizing force in the Middle East.”

Barak met with his official host, Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in what a Powell aide called “frank, candid and productive discussions.”

The aide, Col. Bill Smullen, a special assistant to Powell, would not specify what was discussed in the meeting, saying only that the two generals covered “a wide variety of issues.”

The session lasted about 45 minutes, Smullen said, after which Barak met with members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in “the tank,” a secured meeting room. Powell then hosted a lunch for Barak with members of the joint staff, Smullen said.

Barak paid a courtesy call on outgoing Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, whom he presented with a letter from Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin expressing appreciation for what Cheney did for Israel during his tenure, Yaron said.

Earlier Thursday morning, Barak was presented with the U.S. Legion of Merit at a welcoming ceremony at the Pentagon. Yaron said this honor was “totally unexpected.”

On Tuesday, Barak visited the National Training Center, where he flew in an F-18 plane.

“He was very impressed,” Yaron said.

Barak’s visit, though it happened to coincide with the U.S. attack on Iraq, was a long-planned event.

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