(AFP) – Jul 27, 2008
JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak is to travel to the United States on Monday for talks with senior officials expected to focus on Iran.
Public radio said the talks are expected to focus on the Islamic republic's nuclear programme, which Israel views as a major strategic threat, and on preserving the "qualitative advantage" of the Jewish state's armed forces.
A defence ministry spokesman declined to comment on the agenda of the talks, but said Barak planned to meet Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, senior military officials and members of Congress.
Barak is also expected to meet UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, he said.
In an interview with public radio Amos Gilad, a senior adviser to Barak, said the defence minister would "discuss the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear programme."
"This is a very important visit. Israel cannot tolerate living under an Iranian nuclear threat," Gilad said. "For the moment our priority is the diplomatic track, but Israel has to be prepared to use all options."
Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former defence minister involved in US-Israeli strategic relations, is also expected in Washington on Wednesday, and he too will meet Cheney and Rice, his spokesman told AFP.
"The main subject under discussion will be the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear programme to the entire region," the spokesman said.
Mofaz, who is expected to be a candidate to replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a party primary in September, sparked a political firestorm in June when he said Israel would attack Iran if it did not halt its nuclear drive.
Israel's army chief of staff said on a visit to Washington last week that he favoured a diplomatic solution to the impasse over Tehran's nuclear programme but that "all options must be prepared."
The United States and Israel suspect Iran's nuclear drive is aimed at developing an atomic bomb, a claim vehemently denied by Tehran which says its programme is designed for civilian use only.
Israel, the region's sole if undeclared nuclear power, considers Iran its main strategic threat because of its nuclear programme and repeated predictions by senior Iranian leaders of the Jewish state's demise.
Public radio has quoted Olmert as saying that Iran could have a nuclear weapon by the end of 2009, fuelling speculation that Israel may attempt to set its efforts back with a military strike.
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