Unexpected surprise for Barak
Photo: AFP
Washington: Obama, Barak meet unexpectedly
US president unexpectedly joins meeting between Israeli defense minister, National Security Advisor Jones in Washington; Obama, Barak discuss American demand to halt West Bank settlement construction
WASHINGTON - American President Barack Obama unexpectedly joined Defense Minister Ehud Barak's meeting with US National Security Advisor James Jones Tuesday.


Sources in Washington told Ynet that Obama "dropped by" to greet Barak, who he met during his visit to Israel ahead of the US presidential elections.


Obama resorted to a move adopted by previous presidents, and mostly by former President George W. Bush, who would surprise guests at the White House during meetings with senior figures. The gesture is meant to bestow honor upon the guest, but also makes it clear that the advisor's positions reflect the president's views.


The president's presence in the 90-minute meeting between Barak and Jones was not planned in advance. Obama and Barak reportedly discussed, among other things, the issue of a settlement freeze, which at this time is at the heart of the disagreements between US and Israel. However, officials at Barak's entourage admitted later that the US did not rescinded its demand for a complete halt on settlement construction.


During the meeting Barak presented Jerusalem's position, whereby Israel is willing to remove 22 out of the 26 illegal outposts established in the West Bank after March 2001. The defense minister urged the US administration to reexamine the demand to freeze construction in settlements and settlement blocs that may remain in Israel's hands as part of a future peace agreement.


Meanwhile, during the daily briefing at the White House, Spokesman Robert Wood said the US is not reevaluating its relationship with Israel.


"The United States relationship with Israel is not under review. We have a very strong, solid relationship with the government of Israel. Period," he said.

The US president is scheduled to embark on his latest Middle East tour later Tuesday, but he will not be visiting Israel. The trip's highlight is expected to be Obama's speech in Cairo, where he will present his vision in respect to the Arab world. The president will also head to Saudi Arabia during his tour.


Defense Minister Barak has been in Washington for two days now, in an attempt to mitigate recent disagreements between Israel and the US administration.


Earlier Tuesday, a senior Jerusalem source admitted that Israel and the US face disagreements at this time, but said that "there is no landslide… friends can disagree, but the relationship is mature enough so we do not have to conceal our disagreements."


According to the source, Jerusalem's relations with Washington "are stable and intimate."


Roni Sofer contributed to the report


First published: 06.02.09, 21:27
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