Strategic talks with U.S. focus on Iranian threat

By Aluf Benn

Haaretz

Shvat 4, 5767

The Iranian threat was at the forefront of the strategic dialogue between Israel and the United States that took place in Tel Aviv yesterday. The Israeli and American teams, headed respectively by Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, discussed ways to halt Iran's nuclear program, its support for terror and its attempts to expand its regional power and influence.

Burns began by quoting U.S. President George Bush's statement that while "all options are on the table," the focus is currently on the diplomatic effort. The participants therefore discussed ways of imposing sanctions on Iran, while the Americans explained their efforts to impede Iran's cash flow. They said that this, combined with Bush's decision to send a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, signals Tehran that America is serious.

The parties also discussed Iran's efforts to undermine regional stability, the growing fear of Iranian power in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and Iran's ties with Syria, Hezbollah and Palestinian terror organizations. Mofaz said that it would be wrong to despair of halting Iran's nuclear program, as much can still be done.

The parties agreed to continue the dialogue through various channels in the coming months and to forge a joint policy on Iran. In May-June, the strategic dialogue will reconvene officially in Washington.

New Iraq strategy

The Americans also explained America's new strategy in Iraq and briefed the Israelis on the conference of Lebanese donor states due to take in the coming days. Washington intends to pledge about $1 billion to rebuild Lebanon following last summer's war with Israel, they said, and it expects the Europeans and Saudi Arabia to make hefty pledges as well.

Israel's delegation to the talks included Mofaz; Ambassador to Britain Ron Prosor, who coordinated preparations for the talks in his previous capacity; Defense Ministry Director General Gabi Ashkenazi; Foreign Ministry Director General Aharon Abramovitch; Atomic Energy Commission Director Gideon Frank; National Security Council Chairman Ilan Mizrahi; Shalom Turjeman, who is Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's political advisor; and representatives of the intelligence community. The U.S. delegation included Burns; Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, the most senior Pentagon official to visit Israel in recent years; Robert Danin of the State Department; representatives of the army and intelligence agencies; and Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones.