U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry was in Israel this week for a two-day visit, during which the danger of nuclear proliferation in the region was high on the agenda.
But the defense secretary denied that another topic widely expected to be on the table – the possible deployment of American troops as part of a future Israeli-Syrian peace accord – even came up.
“No, we did not” talk about the deployment of American troops. Perry told reporters after meeting with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin for two hours on Sunday.
Terming such a discussion “entirely premature,” Perry said, “We do not yet have a peace plan [between Israel and Syria] and we particularly don’t have a plan for how peacekeeping forces might be deployed there.”
Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations have been deadlocked for months over a Syrian demand that Israel relinquish the Golan in return for peace. Rabin, in turn, has been calling on Damascus to first spell out the nature of the peace it envisions with Israel, a move Syria has so far refused to do.
The possibility of stationing U.S. forces on the Golan Height has come under increasing scrutiny over the past six months as both American and Israeli opponents of territorial compromise on the Golan and of U.S. peacekeeping missions have lobbied against any future deployment.
On the eve of Perry’s departure for the region last week, a Defense Department official said that the subject was slated to be discussed.
Perry arrived in Israel after holding talks in Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak urged the American official to pressure Israel to sign the nuclear non- proliferation treaty.
But Israeli sources said they did not expect Perry to exert any pressure during this visit, even though Perry has said in the past hat he would like Israel, which is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, to sign the treaty.
During his meeting with Perry, Rabin spoke of Israeli concerns about a possible nuclear threat from Iran.
Israeli and American officials said recently that Iran is five years away from being able to produce an atomic bomb.
Perry told reporters he shared Israel’s concerns on the matter. “We are very much concerned about the potential that Iran might become a nuclear power,” he said.
Responding to questions about a report that Russia was planning to complete work on an atomic power plant in Iran, Perry said, “We do not consider that an acceptable development, and to the extent that this [possible deal between Iran and Russia] might lead in that direction, we would be very much opposed to it.”
During his visit to Egypt earlier Sunday, Perry said, “One of the most [frightening] security threats facing the world this decade is the danger that a rogue nation or terrorists will get their hands on one, five or a dozen nuclear weapons and threaten the world with them.”