Liberman plans US trip to assuage fears after appointment

Israel's new Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is scheduled to visit the United States this weekend for talks with his US counterpart, his office said Thursday, after Washington raised concerns over the Yisrael Beytenu chief’s appointment.

Liberman's trip will be his first abroad since being sworn in on May 30, though he is familiar to US officials from an earlier stint as Foreign Minister.

It comes with the United States and Israel in the process of negotiating a new 10-year defense aid pact, the Memorandum of Understanding, to replace the current one, which expires in 2018
and grants the Jewish state more than $3 billion per year.

Liberman leaves on Saturday and is set to meet US Defense Secretary Ashton Carton on Monday.

He will also attend a ceremony in Dallas next Wednesday marking the development of US defense firm Lockheed Martin's F-35 fighter jet, which Israel is purchasing, and tour a factory of Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems.

Following Liberman's nomination, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, in a rare comment on Israeli internal politics, said the Jewish state's new ruling coalition raised "legitimate questions" over Israel's commitment to a two-state solution in its conflict with the Palestinian Authority.

Both Netanyahu and Liberman have sought to allay concerns over the appointment, saying they are committed to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and to a two-state solution.

Netanyahu himself has also had a rocky relationship with US President Barack Obama's administration, but the two leaders have sought to move past their disagreements in recent months and negotiate the new defense deal.

AFP contributed to this report


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