Barak heads to U.S.

Israel’s Ehud Barak set off for his first U.S. tour as defense minister in the Olmert government.

Barak took off Sunday night for a five-day visit to New York and Washington, where he will meet senior Bush administration officials, pro-Israel lobbyists and Jewish leaders.

In talks with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Barak is expected to discuss joint Israeli-U.S. projects such as advanced anti-missile systems.

Barak has accelerated efforts to counter Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and prepare for any future conflict with Iran. He argues that Israel must have a reliable way for dealing with rocket and mortar attacks before it considers handing over significant portions of the West Bank to Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority.

Barak, a former prime minister, will likely be the most senior Israeli official to visit the United States before next week’s Annapolis peace conference including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Abbas and Arab leaders.

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