Israeli Defense Minister Meets with Cheney, Rice Today, Iran on the Agenda

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Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has arrived in Washington and is scheduled to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Pentagon officials and a few members of Congress today. Iran is on the agenda. Barak is accompanied by Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni and Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz. Their visit follows that of Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi to Washington last week.

(I recently wrote about the planned visits, and signs of a growing divergence between US and Israeli timelines and sense of urgency on the Iran issue. Israel was reportedly not informed in advance that the Bush administration planned to send a US representative to international nuclear talks with Iran. Barak’s visit, which had been planned for earlier this month, was postponed several times, including because of a recent Israel-Hezbollah prisoner swap.)

Rice has given Iran until Saturday to respond to an international offer on a package of incentives in exchange for negotiations on halting its nuclear program. Accompanying the latest international incentives package to Iran, was a “freeze for freeze” proposal, under which Iran would agree to freeze further installations to its uranium enrichment program, while the international community would agree to freeze placing further economic sanctions on Iran, for a six week pre-negotiations period. In order to move to full-fledged negotiations, Iran has been asked to agree to suspend uranium enrichment for the duration of negotiations, in exchange for the UN agreeing to suspend sanctions already passed against it.

Iran reportedly did not provide a specific response to the freeze for freeze offer when it met with international representatives, including US undersecretary of state for political affairs William Burns, at international nuclear talks held in Geneva earlier this month. “What we’re looking for is, at the end of the two weeks, a definitive statement through the normal channels, [Iran nuclear negotiator Saeed] Jalili to [international representative Javier] Solana, on where the Iranians stand,” a State Department spokesman told reporters today.

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