Israel's Ehud Barak heads to Washington

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Israel's outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak departed for Washington on Monday, ahead of the arrival later this week of a high-level Israeli delegation coming to Washington for consultations, apparently as part of the US-Israel strategic dialogue.

Barak “departed this morning for a working visit to the US,” the Israeli Defense Ministry said in a statement sent to the Back Channel Monday. “During his visit he will meet with senior administration officials and the heads of the intelligence and defense establishments.”

Later in the week an Israeli delegation led by Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror and including Yitzhak Molho is due to arrive in Washington for consultations with their American counterparts, Haaretz reported. Israeli and American officials did not immediately confirm to the Back Channel if the consultations are part of the semi-annual US-Israel strategic dialogue, co-led by Amidror and US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.

The visits come ahead of planned trips to the region by Secretary of State John Kerry later this month and President Obama’s first presidential trip to Israel next month, and amid a steady tempo of high-level Israeli-American security consultations.
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Israeli military jets struck an alleged weapons convoy near Syria’s border with Lebanon late last month.

The visits also come as reports suggest Iran may be slowing down growth of its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defined as a key Israeli “red line.”

“Diplomats accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna told Reuters that Iran had apparently resumed converting into fuel small amounts of higher-grade enriched uranium – thereby reducing the amount potentially available for nuclear weapons,” Reuters reported Sunday.

More details on the development are expected when the IAEA issues its next report on Iran at the end of the month.

Earlier this month Iran notified the IAEA that it intends to install as many as 3,000 more advanced IR-2M centrifuges at its main enrichment facility at Natanz. The development could shorten the time in which Iran could potentially reach a “breakout” capacity.

Iran has agreed to resume nuclear talks with six world powers in Kazakhstan on February 26th, after an eight-month hiatus.

(Photo: Associated Press/Matthias Schrader: Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak gestures during a meeting at the Security Conference in Munich, southern Germany, on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013.)

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