- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

ISRAELI AMBASSADOR

Israeli insiders are speculating on whether the latest candidate named as a possible Israeli ambassador to the United States would be acceptable to the White House because of his criticism of President Obama during last year’s presidential campaign.

Michael Oren, a former Israeli paratrooper and now a visiting professor at Georgetown University, surfaced this week as a possible replacement for Ambassador Sallai Meridor, who announced in March that he was resigning to allow Israel’s new conservative prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to select his own envoy to Washington.

The Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Wednesday quoted a source “close” to the Obama administration, who called Mr. Oren “an odd choice” because of his views on Mr. Obama’s likely policies toward Israel.

The Jerusalem Post on Thursday noted that Mr. Oren’s defenders discount his criticism of Mr. Obama.

“Clearly, he’s not a neoconservative,” it quoted one source as saying. “This is a guy who’s respected on both sides of the aisle.”

A foreign government must submit the name of a potential ambassador to the State Department and await U.S. approval before sending an envoy to Washington.

In a detailed analysis of Mr. Obama and Republican presidential candidate John McCain last year, Mr. Oren wrote that Mr. Obama’s policies “are liable to strain the [U.S.-Israeli] alliance. …”

He noted that Mr. McCain would be tougher on terrorism and stronger in support of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would refrain from pressuring Israel to dismantle Jewish settlements in the West Bank, while Mr. Obama generally held opposing views.

“These disparities are rife with ramifications for Israel,” Mr. Oren wrote. He added that Israelis, as “long-time advocates” of pre-emptive strikes against terrorists, “may be disappointed by an Obama administration that abandons the tactic and recoils from further preventative action against terrorists.”

Yedioth Ahronoth, citing sources in the prime minister’s office, said it had confirmed Mr. Oren is one of four candidates under consideration for the Washington position.

It also reported that Mr. Netanyahu met earlier this week with Dore Gold, a former Israeli envoy to the United Nations, to discuss offering him the ambassadorship.

Zalman Shoval, a close political adviser to Mr. Netanyahu and a diplomat who already served twice as ambassador to the United States, has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for the position.

A fourth diplomat, Alon Pinkas, is considered a long shot because he served as a top adviser to two former Labor Party prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres.

NOT SO FAST

President Obama may have thawed relations with Venezuela’s anti-American leader, Hugo Chavez, with a smile and a handshake last week, but a full restoration of diplomatic ties will take longer, a U.S. diplomat said this week.

“It’s a process that will take some time, and it’s not possible to say when we can bring this new phase of normalizing relations to fruition,” John Caulfied, the charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas told a Venezuelan television program.

Mr. Chavez expelled U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy in September to show solidarity with Bolivian President Evo Morales, who ordered U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg to leave the country after accusing him of interfering with domestic affairs. Mr. Chavez also recalled Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez from Washington, and the State Department expelled Bolivian Ambassador Mario Guzman.

After his grip-and-grin photo with Mr. Obama at the Summit of the Americas, Mr. Chavez said he is ready to send his ambassador to Washington.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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