Israeli officials to US for talks on Iran, Syria

Date: 06-04-07

JERUSALEM (AFP) - An Israeli delegation will hold discussions in Washington this week focusing on Iran and Syria, including talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, an official said on Monday.

The delegation will be headed by Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former defence minister and army chief, his spokeswoman told AFP.

He is due to meet Rice ahead of "strategic discussions on Thursday with the Americans notably focusing on the Iranian problem," she said.

Mofaz will also seek to "verify what Syria's objectives would be in eventual peace talks with Israel."

The American delegation will be headed by Nicholas Burns, under secretary for political affairs, she said.

The meeting comes ahead of a meeting on June 19 between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and US President George W. Bush in Washington.

According to the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper, Mofaz believes that "the time has come to launch a secret channel with Syria" in order to defuse mounting tensions in the region.

Mofaz, along with other senior Israeli officials, has been alarmed at Syrian military reinforcements along the border with Israel, the alleged purchase of advanced missiles from Iran and the alleged continued supply of long-range rockets by Syria to Hezbollah.

In April, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned against any "miscalculation" that could lead both countries to all-out conflict, following Israeli intelligence reports that said Damascus was preparing for war.

"Israel has no intention of attacking Syria and... both sides need to be wary of any miscalculation that could lead the two countries into a confrontation that neither side is interested in," Olmert said.

US-brokered peace talks between Israel and Syria broke down in 2000 over disagreement over the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau that Israel captured in the 1967 war and unilaterally annexed in 1981.

Israel accused Syria of supplying arms to Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, with which it fought a 34-day war last summer, a charge Damascus denies.


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