Official: Lieberman question ‘hypothetical’

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A top State Department official called "hypothetical" a question about whether the U.S. could work with an Israeli government which includes Avigdor Lieberman.

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said that "there’s been a variety of leaders in Israel" and "we’ve always found ways to discuss our differences and try to move forward. I am confident that we will continue to do that."

Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beitenu party won 15 seats in the Knesset in Tuesday’s elections, has drawn criticism from some for his proposal that Israelis sign an oath of loyalty to the state.

Steinberg, who spoke and took questions at the National Council for International Visitors annual meeting in Washington in his maiden speech as deputy secretary, added that the formation of an Israeli government is "ultimately a decision for the Israeli people. It’s not our practice to try to dictate that to others."

Steinberg also stressed the importance of achieiving peace in the Middle East and building "stronger relationships" in the region. He said he wanted to "put particular importance on strengthening our partnership with Egypt," noting that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was, as he spoke, meeting with Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

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