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McCain (L) and Lieberman
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Netanyahu (L) and Mitchell
Photo: AFP
Senators McCain, Lieberman downplay Mitchell's threat
During Jerusalem press conference, senator who lost to Obama expresses objection to use of aid freeze as threat. Lieberman: Attempt of this kind won't pass in Congress

Mitchell can threaten Jerusalem, but there will be others ready to defend Israel in Washington: Four senior US senators visiting Israel said Sunday that they oppose attempts to apply pressure on Israel by freezing aid. The senators, including former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, emphasized that they would not allow the US government to authorize such a proposal.

 

During a press conference at Jerusalem's David Citadel Hotel, at which senators Joe Lieberman, John Thune and John Barrasso were also present, McCain said that he expects the White House to confirm soon that this is not its policy.

 

Lieberman said that any attempt to force Israel to the negotiations table by withholding aid would not pass in Congress. He added that he did not think it would come to this.

 

Lieberman, who was Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2000 and afterwards supported McCain for president, is now an independent senator though still part of the Democratic faction in the Senate.

 

Steinitz: We'll do without US aid

The four senators spoke following the storm caused by an apparent threat from US special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, to freeze loan guarantees to Israel if it failed to make progress in the peace process with the Palestinians.

 

During an interview with the PBS network, Mitchell asserted that the US would use both carrots and sticks against the two sides, noting that US law allowed such a freeze.

Later, a senior Washington figure told Ynet that no threat was intended, in an attempt to moderate Mitchell's remarks.

 

The apparent threat was discussed in the cabinet's weekly meeting on Sunday, during which Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) asserted, "We don't have to use those guarantees. We are doing very well without them." Education Minister Gideon Saar (Likud) added, "Israel will act in accordance with its interests."

 

Earlier, Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor) met with the four senators and noted that Hezbollah continues to rearm. Lebanon carries full responsibility for any rockets fired from its territory, he said, adding that Israel would not go after individual terrorists.

 

He also talked about the need to launch negotiations with the Palestinians, and about Iran.

 

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