- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

A proposal for a joint U.S.-Israeli anti-terror office has been delayed by Israeli security concerns and by Democratic reluctance to endorse immediately any part of President Bush's proposed Homeland Security Department.

A separate panel of lawmakers, the U.S.-Israeli Inter-Parliamentary Commission on National Security (IPC), failed to convene as expected in June, delaying movement on the anti-terrorism office and other cooperation between the two nations.

"Our commission isn't in a position to speak authoritatively about [the new office] right now," Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii Democrat, said yesterday. "Some of us have concerns about the new [homeland security] department that must be resolved first."

Mr. Abercrombie said Israeli security concerns also have been a primary factor in keeping the IPC from meeting to discuss the new office or anything else.

"I hope we'll be able to meet as soon as possible," said Mr. Abercrombie, who helped create the lawmakers' panel in 1998. "But obviously the current situation in the Middle East is precarious, so we don't know how forthcoming the Israelis can be right now."

A spokesman for Rep. Curt Weldon, the Pennsylvania Republican who is drafting legislation to create the anti-terrorism office within the Homeland Security Department, said further news on the matter may be delayed until Labor Day.

The IPC, a body of legislators from Congress and the Israeli Knesset, has served as a primary facilitator for cooperation between the United States and Israel.

The commission held joint hearings on missile defense and other security matters in the Rayburn House Office Building in September 1998.

U.S. lawmakers "wanted to work with the Knesset to put some substance behind the abstract equation of missile defense," Mr. Abercrombie said of the original effort. "Area missile defense and theater missile defense are crucial to Israel's survival."

Israeli Internal Security Minister Uzi Landau, a member of the missile-defense panel, and Brig. Gen. David Tzur met with Defense Department officials and top legislators in a series of private briefings on June 27. Participants said the two countries next would focus on creating the joint U.S.-Israeli anti-terror office.

The office would be in Washington and would be run by an official within the Department of Homeland Security. It would monitor a live communications link between the two nations, swapping nonclassified security information ranging from visa policies to terrorist profiles.

Mr. Weldon announced the revival of the IPC at a Feb. 6 Capitol Hill briefing with Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican; Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat; Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat; and Mr. Landau of Israel.

"We have much to learn from Israel's experience in areas such as airport security, information sharing among security organizations, and counterterrorism planning," Mrs. Harman said at the briefing.

A subsequent press release from Mrs. Harman's office said the IPC's first revamped meeting and report was "tentatively" scheduled for June. But a spokesman for Mr. Weldon said yesterday the IPC has yet to reconvene and probably will not do so until the congressional recess period begins in August.

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