- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2006

JERUSALEM (Agence France-Presse) — Israel’s foreign minister flew to the United States yesterday amid worries the Jewish state’s main ally could shift course after a report urged Washington to step up Middle East peacemaking efforts.

Tzipi Livni was to meet with U.S. officials during her visit, which will focus on the repercussions of a report released Wednesday by the Iraq Study Group, her office said.

In a speech last night in Washington, she insisted that the struggle between moderates and extremists in the Middle East, not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is the main issue in the region today. The Bush administration has been making the same argument for the past few months.

“This trip will be an occasion to review with her counterparts the report and to discuss its meaning,” a foreign ministry spokesman said in Jerusalem before the minister’s arrival in Washington.

A meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was not officially scheduled, but U.S. officials said late yesterday that they would meet today.

The Iraq report said progress toward Arab-Israeli peace was key to saving Iraq.

It also called for direct U.S. talks with two of Israel’s most loathed foes, Syria and Iran, the latter of which is accused of working to develop nuclear weapons.

A day after receiving the top-level commission’s report, the United States and Britain signaled the start of a renewed diplomatic push in the region.

President Bush promised “concerted efforts to advance the cause of peace” and said British Prime Minister Tony Blair would soon travel to the region for talks with Israelis and Palestinians.

The renewed focus on peacemaking and growing domestic pressure on U.S. leaders to end the fighting in Iraq has Israelis worrying about a possible policy shift by Mr. Bush.

Israel’s leading newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, said Mr. Bush was “trying to change his policy” and slammed the Iraq report, accusing its chief authors former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton of ignoring Israel during its preparation.

“If the truth be told, they barely paid any attention to us,” the newspaper said of Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton.

“For 14 years, Israel enjoyed warm and pampering attention under Clinton and Bush. Now, in light of the catastrophe in Iraq, Baker and Hamilton wish to restore us to our proper proportions,” the newspaper said.

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