Israel and US in hectic talks ahead of Chicago, Baghdad

Israel and US in hectic talks ahead of Chicago, Baghdad

Israel and US in hectic talks ahead of Chicago, Baghdad

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (R) lights a candle with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak during Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Pentagon on April 19. REUTERS photo

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is holding talks with senior U.S. officials in Washington for the third time in as many months, reportedly to discuss a U.S. military aid package, ahead of talks between world powers and Iran in Baghdad on May 23 to discuss the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. The meeting also come ahead of NATO’s Chicago summit on May 20-21, to which Israel is not officially invited, reportedly due to Turkey’s veto.

During the visit Barak will meet with his U.S. counterpart Leon Panetta and other senior administration officials. The two last met on April 19 for talks the Pentagon said focused on Iran, Syria and the effects of the Arab Spring on the Middle East. Israeli daily Haaretz said the latest meeting would finalize an expected U.S. announcement of an extra $680 million in aid to Israel to help finance the production and deployment of more batteries of its Iron Dome anti-missile system, as well as addressing other issues. Three batteries of the sophisticated system deployed in southern Israel performed successfully during a rocket barrage by Gaza militants in March, and Barak has said he intends to extend it throughout the country. The U.S. spent $204 million on the Iron Dome system in 2011.

Last week EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu along with several ministers to discuss Iran. “They discussed Iran.

Israel presented its positions as the next round of P5+1 talks in Baghdad approaches,” an official told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity. A senior Israeli official was also quoted as saying that Israeli Military Intelligence chief Gen. Aviv Kochavi made a secret visit two weeks ago to Washington and to U.N. headquarters in New York, where he discussed Iran’s nuclear program, the Syria crisis and Hezbollah’s increasing power in Lebanon.

Iran, IAEA: Vienna talks positive
According to reports, Kochavi met in Washington with senior White House and State Department officials, as well as senior officials in the Defense Department Intelligence Agency and the CIA. The Iran issue was a central focus of Kochavi’s talks in Washington, where he discussed the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and the status of the P5+1 talks. In New York, Kochavi briefed several ambassadors from U.N. Security Council member states. These discussions also dealt with Iran, but primarily focused on the situation in Syria and Lebanon. A week before the Baghdad talks, the U.N. atomic agency and Iran convened in Vienna to probe Tehran’s nuclear program for signs of secret work on atomic-weapons technology.

Talks saw a “good exchange of views” and will resume on May 21, two days before world powers meet Tehran representatives in Baghdad, the watchdog’s chief inspector said.“During these two days we discussed a number of options to take the agency verification process forward in a structured way,” Hermann Nackaerts said May 15 in a joint statement to journalists with Iran’s Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh.

Soltanieh said: “We had fruitful discussions in a very conducive environment. We have made progress on this issue regarding preparing and negotiating the modality framework for resolving our outstanding issues.” Neither gave further details, including on whether International Atomic Energy Agency access to the Parchin military site was discussed at the talks at Iran’s embassy in Vienna.