U.S., Israel differ on emphases in strategic dialogue

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — 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 U.S. 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 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 U.S. statement issued Thursday did not mention Iran at all, although Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of state in charge of Iran talks, was present, and instead 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 ISIS.

“Minister Steinitz welcomed the decision” by President Obama to build a coalition to destroy ISIS, 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.

The U.S. statement focused instead on Israel’s recent operation in Gaza and reiterated U.S. complaints to Israel about a recent decision 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 statement said. “The United States reiterated its concern about continued settlement activity in the West Bank.”