Bibi back in US for security talks

By Anshel Pfeffer, April 7, 2010

Only three weeks after the traumatic meeting in the Oval Office, Binyamin Netanyahu will be returning to Washington next week and participating in President Barack Obama's nuclear security summit.

The two leaders are not expected to meet privately as the Israeli government has yet to respond to the administration’s demands regarding the peace process.

Some of Mr Netanyahu’s security advisors were against his participation in the summit, which is part of Mr Obama’s agenda towards nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Despite the widespread reports of its nuclear arsenal, Israel has preserved its decades-old policy of “nuclear ambiguity” and the government has steadfastly remained vague in this regard. The advisors feared that Mr Netanyahu would come under pressure during the summit to disclose its nuclear capabilities and even commit to reducing them. Israel is one of 40 nations invited to the summit and the original intention was to send a lower-level delegation.

Israel’s fears were partly allayed on Tuesday following a phone conversation between Ellen Tauscher, the US under secretary of state for arms control and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, in which Ms Tauscher reassured that the administration would continue to respect Israel’s nuclear policy and that President Obama and his staff would stand up for Israel and other American allies during the summit.

Mr Netanyahu was reassured also by recent statements by Mr Obama concerning his intention to redesign America’s nuclear strategy to confront the threats posed by Iran and North Korea. Mr Netanyahu said at a press conference on Wednesday that he would be using the conference to call upon the world to impose serious sanctions on Iran.

Mr Netanyahu will be spending a day and a half in Washington and is not scheduled to meet President Obama privately. The Prime Minister’s Office explained that Mr Obama would not be meeting during the summit heads of state with whom he met recently but American sources have said in recent days that the real reason they will not speak privately is that the administration is still waiting to receive the Israeli response to a list of demands over the peace process, chief among them a freeze of building in east Jerusalem and a commitment to continue the 10-month freeze on building in the West Bank, due to end in September.

Despite holding a number of cabinet meetings on the issue, the government has yet to reach a decision. For now, Mr Netanyahu is digging in his heels, especially on the building in Jerusalem. On Monday evening, he said at a Mimouna celebration in Or Akiva that “we are going to continue building for young couples, in the north, south, Jerusalem, everywhere”.

Despite this he promised at the cabinet meeting on Wednesday that “we will not allow a crisis in our relationship with America” and his office said that the response to the administration “will be given in the near future”.

    Last updated: 2:30pm, April 7 2010