WASHINGTON - Defense Minister Ehud Barak touched down in New York on Monday and kicked-off his round of meetings with US officials with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a close advisor to US President George W. Bush on international affairs.
Barak's first official meeting will take place on Tuesday morning after a visit to the Arlington National Cemetery, where the defense minister will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. From there he will head to the Pentagon for a meeting with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Barak with Kissinger in New York (Photo: Ariel Hermoni)
On Wednesday Barak will meet with Vice President Dick Cheney and the day after with National Security Advisor Steven Hadley.
Washington officials have expressed a great deal of interest in Barak's visit and are keen on hearing his opinions on the civil war in Iraq and the nuclear power crisis in Iran. The administration is also hoping he voices a favorable outlook on the potential of the upcoming peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland. The success or failure of which would greatly reflect on the standing of the president and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
But Washington is concerned that any opposition from Barak to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's agenda may render any agreement reached at the conference void – especially in regards to the dismantling of roadblocks in the West Bank and the evacuation of illegal settlements.
However Barak has already discussed these issues with Rice in Israel during the latter's current round of shuttle diplomacy. Rice will remain in the region for the rest of the week as preparations for the conference intensify.
Alongside Barak's visit several other Israeli politicians are also in Washington at the moment. MKs Yuval Steinitz, Yossi Beilin, Yisrael Hasson and Avigdor Yitzhaki – all memebers of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee – are scheduled to meet on Monday with US Under Secretary of State for
Political Affairs Nick Burns. Burns is charged with leading diplomatic efforts surrounding the Iranian nuclear crisis.
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On are both scheduled to travel to Washington these coming weeks.