Senior Obama officials travel to Israel for consultations

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A “cavalcade” of high-ranking Obama administration officials will travel to Israel over the next two weeks for strategic consultations, diplomatic sources told The Back Channel. Among them, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, who will participate in the US-Israel strategic dialogue.

While the high-level American-Israeli consultations will cover the range of security issues, the most pressing focus of the consultations will be Iran. Israel is skeptical of the prospects of achieving a near-term diplomatic solution, and is pressing for tougher sanctions to be imposed and for the U.S. to issue a credible military threat against Iran over its nuclear program. It has not ruled out taking military action on its own if Iran does not agree to curb its most sensitive nuclear work, particularly its 20% enrichment activities at the fortified Fordo enrichment site.

Clinton will travel to Israel July 16-17, “where she will be meeting with the Israeli leadership to discuss peace efforts and a range of regional and bilateral issues of mutual concern,” the State Department previously announced. Clinton, who met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris Friday and will visit Egypt July 14-15, will also discuss with her Israeli counterparts prospects for resumed Israeli-Palestinian contacts, if not full fledged peace talks, Egyptian-Israeli relations after the election of Islamist president Mohammed Morsy, and the Syrian conflict and its impact on Jordanian stability.

Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns will lead the U.S. delegation traveling to Israel this week for meetings of the U.S.-Israel strategic dialogue, a State Department official told Al Monitor Monday. The semi-annual dialogue, involving days of intense, inter-agency meetings among senior officials from both countries, is formally co-chaired on the U.S. side by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and on the Israeli side by National Security Advisor Gen. Yaakov Amidror.

Several high-ranking U.S. officials from other agencies will also participate in the consultations, the diplomatic sources said. The White House, which has not yet announced nor confirmed the trip, did not respond to a query on who from the National Security Council may travel from the American side. Diplomatic sources told Al Monitor it would include senior officials below the president and vice president.

Donilon last traveled to Israel for three-days of meetings as part of the strategic dialogue in February.

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Jim Miller traveled to Israel last month for the annual meeting of the Defense Policy Advisory Council, a Pentagon spokeswoman told Al Monitor.

The ongoing US Israeli consultations come as the deputy nuclear negotiators for Iran and the six-nation “P5+1″ group agreed to meet in Istanbul on July 24th.

“The objective for the meeting”–involving EU deputy foreign policy chief Helga Schmid and her Iranian counterpart Ali Bagheri–“is to look further at how existing gaps in positions could be narrowed and how the process could be moved forward,” EU spokesman Michael Mann said in an emailed statement to Al-Monitor Monday.