US, Israel differ on emphases in strategic dialogue

Contrasting statements issued by Jerusalem, Washington on IS, Iran nuclear talks, and Gaza underline allies’ conflicting priorities

Yuval Steinitz attends a session of the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee in the Knesset, October 16, 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)
Yuval Steinitz attends a session of the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee in the Knesset, October 16, 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)

WASHINGTON — Israel and the United States issued sharply different statements describing their strategic dialogue, with Israel saying Iran poses the longer-term threat in the Middle East.

The teams, led by the US deputy secretary of state, William Burns, and Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, met for two days late last week and discussed the threat posed by the Islamic State (IS), also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS; the nuclear talks with Iran; and humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip.

Unusually, statements from the sides differed substantially. In the past, the sides have issued joint statements.

The US statement issued Thursday did not mention Iran, although Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of state in charge of Iran talks, was present. Instead, it focused on the aftermath of the recent Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.

In contrast, the Israeli statement said that Steinitz called Iran a graver threat than IS.

Steinitz welcomed the decision by President Barack Obama to build a coalition to destroy IS, the Israeli statement said, “but emphasized that the more important mission remained stopping the Iranian nuclear project.”

The United States is leading a team of major powers in talks with Iran aimed at instituting guarantees that Iran does not advance toward a nuclear weapon in exchange for sanctions relief. Israel fears that the talks, which have a Nov. 24 deadline, will allow Iran limited uranium enrichment capabilities.

Along with its focus on Israel’s operation this summer in Gaza, the US statement reiterated US complaints to Israel about a decision earlier this month to appropriate West Bank land for settlement expansion.

“The parties discussed the recent conflict in Gaza, and the importance of reaching a durable peace and an end to the cycle of conflict,” the State Department statement said.

“The two delegations also agreed on the urgent need for reconstruction and humanitarian assistance to support the people of Gaza, and underscored the importance of strengthening the Palestinian Authority. The United States reiterated its concern about continued settlement activity in the West Bank.”

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