Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with hundreds of foreign leaders in the course of her daily work as Obama's top diplomat. Yet her meeting Tuesday at the State Department with her Israeli counterpart, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, was a rare occasion: it was their first face to face meeting in well over a year. This D.C. visit is only Lieberman's second visit to Washington since he became Israeli Foreign Minister three years ago; he and Clinton last met in Jerusalem in September 2010.
Why the distance? Israeli domestic politics is one reason. Lieberman, who is also the leader of a right wing pro-settlements political party, is viewed as a political competitor on the right by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in whose government he serves. And it's not always clear Lieberman's expressed positions are in lock step with those of the prime minister. Then there's the fact that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has often stood in as an almost de facto foreign minister to Washington-a perhaps more comfortable if not unproblematic interlocutor given his pro-peace process positions are not quite in line with Netanyahu's.
With peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians talks more or less on hold, however, such nuances were of less import, and Clinton met with Lieberman Tuesday in a visit that analysts surmised was likely more about the photo grip and grin than substantive discussions.
"The meeting is the message," a former U.S. diplomat told Yahoo News Tuesday. "There is no reason not to meet with him, but it doesn't achieve very much. Then again, lots of diplomatic meetings don't achieve very much."
"There is only one Israeli Clinton is more frustrated with than the Foreign Minister, and that's the Prime Minister," former State Department Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller told Yahoo News Tuesday. "Combined with Obama's comments Sunday that the United States is 'in lock-step' with the Israelis, this is making a virtue out of necessity."
Still, Miller said, "I can't imagine there's much of a substantive agenda. .. This is clearing the in-box."
Lieberman is also due to meet Tuesday with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and members of the House Foreign Affairs panel led by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida).
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