Ashton meets with Netanyahu in Jerusalem ahead of second round of talks with Iran in Baghdad
European Union foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton arrived in Jerusalem on Wednesday for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ahead of the upcoming second round of Iran nuclear talks.
The visit is considered "unusual" as Ashton will only meet with the Israeli government and won’t stop off in Ramallah, and is thought to be a tactic to prevent Netanyahu from publicly voicing his concerns over the talks.
After the first round of talks in Istanbul last month, Netanyahu has criticized the discussions held between Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (the so-called ‘P5+1’). Ashton is expected to try to convince the Israeli premier that a secret deal is not on the table to allow Iran to continue enriching uranium.
In contrast to Ashton’s former visits to the region, the meeting was not officially announced or confirmed by her office in Brussels.
The second round of talks involving the United States, United Kingdom, China, Russia, France, Germany and Iran is scheduled to take place in Baghdad on May 23.
Iran’s nuclear envoy, Saeed Jalili, has pressed for the removal of sanctions against Iran and claimed that placing pressure on Iran would not work to bring a resolution.
In an unprecedented move and following Tuesday’s surprise coalition announcement, the Israeli Prime Minister invited Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to join the meeting with Ashton, along with new ally and Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz.
This is widely viewed in Jerusalem as an attempt by Netanyahu to project a united front of the new national unity government.
Ashton was expected to update Netanyahu of the progress of the meetings. Israel was to demand a guarantee that Iran would cease uranium enrichment, with a clear timetable for doing so, with Netanyahu telling Ashton that "Iran is trying to gain time through talks with the West, and has no intention of halting its nuclear program."
Israeli newspaper Maariv published a report in which sources present during the coalition negotiations claimed that Netanyahu and Mofaz are united over policy regarding Iran. It is thought that, despite changing his mind in recent weeks on the issue of Iran, Mofaz now supports a possible attack.
Israel’s position reinforces Lieberman’s words when he met German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Berlin and stated that Israel expects this next meeting with Iran to yield a commitment to halt uranium enrichment and steps for doing so without delays for further meetings.