Barak in US discusses Mideast "threats"

AFP and Ahram Online, Tuesday 14 Dec 2010

In a meeting held on Monday, US Defence Secretary Gates and Israeli counterpart Barak discussed Mideast security "threats", with Iran's nuclear programme high on both agendas

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, right, welcomes Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak to the Pentagon, Monday, 13 December 2010. (AP)

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Monday held talks with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on the threat posed by Iran and the latest Middle East peace efforts, a spokesman said.

A day before his meeting, Barak said that tensions over Iran's nuclear programme were still at the diplomatic stage and that tougher sanctions might persuade Tehran to switch course.

"This was their sixth meeting this year, and today's talks touched on everything from the recent wildfires in Israel to ongoing peace process efforts to the challenges posed by Iran," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said in a statement.

The morning session covered "a range of bilateral and regional security issues," he said.

Barak also was scheduled to meet the CIA director, Leon Panetta, and President Barack Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon.

Israel has often voiced impatience with Western diplomacy towards Iran but Barak said on Sunday that a new round of sanctions could still bear fruit.

"I still believe that much more active sanctions can cause the regime to have a second thought" about pursuing nuclear weapons, he told CNN in an interview.

The US and other major powers recently resumed diplomatic talks with Iran over the country's disputed nuclear project, which Tehran insists is designed for purely peaceful purposes.

Israel and the United States have refused to rule out military action to halt Iran's uranium enrichment work, but Gates and other top officials have said any strike likely would only delay the nuclear programme for a few years.

Barak also discussed security issues related to Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Barak conveyed concern regarding the increasing armament of Hezbollah saying that it would damage Israel's advantage and threaten its security.

The visit also came amid a bid by Washington this week to salvage Middle East peace negotiations, with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell arriving in Jerusalem as part of a return to indirect talks.

In a statement issued in Washington, the US State Department said Mitchell and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had held "a long and positive discussion -- the best way to approach the substantive core issues and advance toward our goal of peace."

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