White House sends slew of high-level visitors to Israel
Shlomo Cesana and News Agencies
William Burns came last week • Hillary Clinton and nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman arrived Sunday • National Security Adviser Tom Donilon has just left • Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to come late July • GOP candidate Mitt Romney to make his own visit.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Israel Sunday night and is due to meet with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and Opposition Leader Shelly Yachimovich during her two-day visit. She will also see Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad but not President Mahmoud Abbas, whom she met on July 6 in Paris.
Clinton and Israeli officials will discuss Egypt’s political upheaval, Iran’s nuclear program and the stymied Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“With negotiations with Iran stalled and Israel’s self-declared window for action closing, the U.S. no doubt feels the need to keep the Israelis in lock-step with Washington through intensive high-level engagement,” said Rob Danin, an analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations who also advises Tony Blair, representative of the Quartet of Middle East mediators.
Making her first trip to Israel in 22 months, and only her fourth visit as secretary of state, Clinton’s talks will focus first and foremost on the political transition in Egypt, where the Islamist President Mohammed Morsi took office two weeks ago.
The downfall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last year has raised questions among Israelis about whether Egypt, the first Arab nation to have made peace with Israel, would continue to adhere to that treaty under his Islamist successor.
Clinton flew to Israel from Egypt, where she held talks on Saturday with Morsi, a former Muslim Brotherhood member, who told her Egypt would respect its international treaties. She also saw Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the military council that took over when Mubarak was ousted and that is vying for influence with Morsi.
“At the top of it [her agenda] will be her impressions and assessment of the last two days that she spent in Egypt,” a senior U.S. official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
“She is bringing a very calming message,” Israeli deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Israel Radio. “By their [the U.S.’s] reckoning as well, Egypt’s agenda, and certainly President Morsi’s agenda, will be a domestic agenda. He has to rehabilitate the economy there … internal challenges that are really of utmost importance. There is no change [on Egypt’s commitment to the peace treaty] and in my estimate there will not be in the foreseeable future.”
Clinton wanted to have “a broader strategic conversation about more than a year of now of great change and transformation across the region,” a top State Department official told reporters late Sunday just ahead of her arrival, AFP reported. The official said the meeting would be a kind of “comparing of strategic notes,” and that Clinton would also bring Israeli leaders “up to speed” on what was happening on the diplomatic front to try to end the bloodshed in Syria.
Travelling with Clinton are U.S. Middle East envoy David Hale and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who represents Washington at the talks between world powers and Iran. Last week U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon held talks focusing on Iran’s “quest to develop nuclear weapons,” officials said.
Clinton met first Monday with Lieberman at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.
Clinton’s presence in Israel was preceded by an unannounced visit by White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon at the weekend. Although his visit was not made public, Donlion met with Netanyahu, Barak and National Security Adviser Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror.
A diplomatic source confirmed on Sunday that Donilon came to Israel and met with Netanyahu, but noted that the meetings were part of routine consultations between the two countries on political and security issues.
Also on Monday, it was confirmed that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta would visit Israel at the end of July, about the same time that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is to visit Israel.
The meetings by Clinton and Donlion come as the Foreign Ministry holds its semi-annual U.S.-Israel Strategic Dialogue. The dialogue is the highest-level regularly scheduled set of meetings between the two countries over a wide range of issues of mutual concern, including the Iranian nuclear threat and developments in Syria.
Ayalon and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns are leading the respective delegations.