US, Israel narrow differences for new defense talks

Differences on the package have underscored continuing friction over last year’s US-led nuclear deal with Iran, Israel’s regional archfoe. (Reuters)

The United States and Israel have narrowed their differences over what could be decisive negotiations this week to seal a multibillion-dollar military aid package for Washington’s top Middle East ally, officials said on Monday.

Raising hopes for removal of a key sticking point, Israel has signaled it may accept the Obama administration’s demand that US military funds, until now spent partly on Israeli arms, will eventually be spent entirely on US-made weapons, according to congressional sources.

It would mark a major concession by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after months of tense negotiations over the 10-year aid pact.

But Netanyahu, who has had a fraught relationship with President Barack Obama, has apparently decided it would be best to forge a deal with him rather than hoping for better terms from the next US president, according to officials on both sides. Obama leaves office in January.

Differences on the package have underscored continuing friction over last year’s US-led nuclear deal with Iran, Israel’s regional archfoe. The United States and Israel have also been at odds over the Palestinians. The State Department last week criticized Israel for planned Jewish settlement expansion on occupied land.

Netanyahu sent Jacob Nagel, acting head of Israel’s national security council, to Washington on Monday to lead three days of talks. A person briefed by Netanyahu said the prime minister expressed hope that Nagel would be able to “finalize” negotiations on a new memorandum of understanding and that it would mean increased funding.

A senior US official reiterated the Obama administration’s pledge to sign a new MOU that would “constitute the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in US history.”

The current pact, signed in 2007 and due to expire in 2018, gave Israel around $30 billion in so-called foreign military financing.

US negotiators are believed to have stuck to a previous offer of $3.5 billion to $3.7 billion annually for Israel under the new MOU, substantially less than the $4 billion a year Netanyahu has sought but still a substantial increase.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:47 - GMT 06:47
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