The US administration has decided to send an “airlift” of senior officials to Israel for talks with the Netanyahu government – Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, special Mideast envoy George Mitchell and National Security Advisor James Jones. The first to visit will be President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the region, who will hold a series of meetings in Yerushalayim and Ramallah. Mitchell will land in Israel on Sunday as part of another effort to advance a resumption of the direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
This is expected to be a complicated mission, on the backdrop of the dispute between Israel and the US over the construction in the settlements and in light of the Palestinian demand that freezing settlement building will serve as a condition for resuming the talks.Defense Secretary Gates will arrive on Monday, but will only stay in Israel for a few hours. Washington officials refused to provide details on the visit, but it is known that Gates is expected to meet with his Israeli counterpart, Ehud Barak.
General Jones will arrive in Israel the next day, accompanied by a delegation of US government officials. While the Gates and Mitchell visits are part of a more extensive tour of the Middle East, Obama’s national security advisor will only visit Yerushalayim.
Jones will take part in a strategic meeting of White House officials, various ministries and several American agencies with their Israeli counterparts.
Obama’s senior advisor for Middle Eastern and Southwest Asian affairs, Dennis Ross, is likely to be part of the American delegation which will land in Israel on Tuesday. The American and Israeli officials are set to discuss the situation in Iran and ways to stop the Ayatollah regime from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
At this stage, the Obama administration is holding separate discussions on the two issues troubling Israel – the talks with the Palestinians and the Iranian threat.
In terms of the situation in Tehran there is a tight cooperation between the two sides, but the Palestinian issue is causing tension. The settlement issue had yet to be resolved, but Washington wants it to stop making newspaper headlines.
Meanwhile, Senator Mitchell has denied that he plans to retire from his role as Mideast envoy by the end of the year, as reported by Elliot Abrams, who served as former US President George W. Bush’s senior advisor on Middle Eastern affairs.
[Yair Alpert-Matzav.com Israel/Ynet/Reuters/UPI}