- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

JERUSALEM (AP) - Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s choice for national security adviser said Wednesday that he has been denied an entry visa to the United States for the past two years because U.S. authorities linked him to a Pentagon spy case.

Israeli officials refused to publicly discuss the case of Uzi Arad, a former Mossad intelligence officer and close Netanyahu aide. A U.S. State Department official said visa records are confidential under American law and cannot be discussed.

Arad said American officials erroneously tied him to Lawrence A. Franklin, a former Defense Department official who pleaded guilty to providing classified defense information to two pro-Israel lobbyists. Franklin was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison.

The two former lobbyists for American Israel Public Affairs Committee _ Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman _ have been charged with illegally disclosing sensitive national defense information to people who are not entitled to receive it.

The 2005 indictment against Franklin, publicly available on the Internet, refers to a meeting he held at the Pentagon cafeteria with “a person previously associated with an intelligence agency of Foreign Nation A and discussed a Middle Eastern country’s nuclear program.”

Arad confirmed he was indeed that person and had discussed Iran with Franklin, but insisted the 2004 meeting was “superficial” and had nothing to do with the charges against the Pentagon spy.

“We had coffee and we talked about the agenda of the day _ nothing classified, nothing secret, nothing related to espionage,” Arad told The Associated Press Wednesday. “If I was not a Mossad employee in the past, they would not have noticed me. My sin was that I was in the past in the Mossad. It’s not a big deal, and I believe that this issue will be resolved.”

Arad confirmed that two years ago, he applied for a visa and but was denied, under section 212-3 (A) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, which bars entry for those suspected of intent to engage in espionage or sabotage. Arad said he has not applied for a visa since.

He said Israeli Foreign Ministry officials have provided American authorities with assurances that he was unrelated to the affair. He also said he had offered to take a polygraph test to prove it.

It is unclear whether the United States shares Arad’s version of the events because no one has spoken openly about the matter.

“With regard to visa records, they are confidential under U.S. law, so I am not able to discuss any particular case,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Wednesday.

Israeli officials also would not discuss the case.

“The Foreign Ministry does not usually comment on entry permits of Israeli citizens into foreign countries,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy. “Mr. Uzi Arad is a private citizen, is not a civil servant and therefore our response is not required.”

During Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister a decade ago, Arad served as his foreign policy adviser while on leave from the Mossad. He officially retired from the Mossad in 1999, and has since headed a think tank at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.

Arad has recently accompanied Netanyahu in some of his highest profile meetings. He sat in on Netanyahu’s meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during her visit to Israel this month.

Arad said the Franklin affair did not come up in his meetings with top American officials during the visit, and that his relations with administration officials were excellent.

“Now, when I will be in a government position, if there will be a need for me to travel to the United States, we will ask for a visa. The state will ask for a visa for me,” he said. “I hope that, because in Washington they know the facts, it will be rectified.”

Netanyahu is expected to take office in the coming days. If Arad is indeed barred from entering the United States, it would create a diplomatic problem for his government, as the premier’s main security adviser usually has close ties with the U.S. administration.

U.S. officials have already raised concerns that Netanyahu’s expected appointment of hawkish Avigdor Lieberman as his foreign minister will clash with the Obama administration’s interest in promoting Mideast peace.

____

Associated Press Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington.

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