Barak to visit Washington for talks on Iran

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will go to Washington next week for consultations on Iran.

The planned visit comes just days after Mossad chief Meir Dagan met in Washington with senior U.S. intelligence officials, and will be followed a week later by a visit to Washington by the IDF’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, met in Israel with his Israeli counterparts.

A senior Israeli government official told the Jerusalem Post the meetings were part of “routine, close consultations” regularly held between Israel and the United States. But the threat posed by Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, and possible Israeli and U.S. responses to it, are expected to top the agenda of Barak’s meetings.

On his three-day visit to the United States, the Israeli defense minister reportedly will meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and President Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley.

The visit comes days after Iran tested several long-range missiles this week – an indication that the Islamic Republic is keen on demonstrating that it can respond to any attack in kind.

On Thursday, Barak alluded to Israel’s ability to strike Iran.

“The Iranian issue is a challenge not just for Israel but for the entire world,” Barak told a Labor Party meeting, according to media reports. “Israel is the strongest country in the region and we have proven in the past that we are not deterred from acting when our vital interests are at stake.”

He noted, however, that the reactions of Israel’s enemies “need to be taken into consideration as well.”

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