Israeli Delegation Heads to D.c. for Talks on Strategic Relationship

In what is being viewed as a symbol of American support for Israel, an Israeli delegation will arrive in Washington next week to continue a dialogue on the strategic relationship between the two close allies.

The meetings, a resumption of talks that flourished during the Clinton administration, are aimed at sending a signal that while the United States occasionally may criticize Israel’s tactics in its conflict with the Palestinians, the two countries are still aligned in a strong strategic relationship.

“The U.S. knows that Israel knows that the State Department has to say certain things in public,” one military analyst said, citing recent condemnations of Israeli incursions into the West Bank and the seizure of Palestinian office buildings. “But in a private, face-to-face dialogue, there is a recognition of whose side the U.S. is really on.”

Next Monday’s talks are expected to broach a broad range of strategic issues, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, the emerging strategic relationship between Russia and the United States and the situation in Iraq.

Although it may not be on the agenda, the conversation likely will include the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian violence. The United States has been particularly critical of Israel’s use of F-16 airplanes, and has pushed Israel to abandon its policy of targeted killings of Palestinian terrorists and militants.

For its part, Israel wants the Bush administration to turn up the pressure on Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to end violence against Israel.

The meeting is the first since the inaugurations this winter of Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon requested the talks in his first visit to the White House in March.

The dialogue will mirror the Strategic Policy Planning Group established by President Clinton and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 1999, which met every four months to bolster Israel’s defense and deterrence capabilities.

Because many of the players have changed since those talks ended at the end of the Clinton administration, next week’s meetings may be a “getting to know you” session.

“This may simply be an exchange of views,” a military analyst said. “It may not create a new breakthrough.”

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will receive the Israeli delegation, which will include Foreign Ministry Director-General Avi Gil, Sharon’s foreign policy adviser Danny Ayalon, Defense Ministry Director-General Amos Yaron and National Security Council head Uzi Dayan, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, David Ivry, who formerly served as national security adviser, helped arrange the talks.

The group also is expected to meet with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, the Post reported.

State Department officials would not comment on the meeting, nor confirm that they are participating in talks with the Israelis.

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