By Luis Ramirez
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta received no new promises from Israeli leaders after he urged them to do more to make peace with the Palestinians and improve relations with other nations in the region.
It is Leon Panetta’s first trip here as U.S. Defense Secretary. He came with a warning for the Jewish state: that it risks further isolation if it does not improve relations with other nations in the region following the popular revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa.
In remarks en route to Tel Aviv, Panetta said the United States wants to help Israel improve damaged relations with Egypt and Turkey.
“It’s pretty clear that at this dramatic time in the Middle East, when there have been so many changes, that it is not a good situation for Israel to become increasingly isolated – and that’s what’s happening,” he said.
Panetta received a cordial welcome at the Israeli defense ministry on Monday – and a polite reply from Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
“I fully agree that we have to look for any reasonable and proper way to ease tensions with Turkey, with Egypt, to find a way to resume negotiations in a sincere and effective manner with the Palestinians,” said Barak.
But he made no new promises.
“It is clear that in the world as a whole there are many who would like to see Israel cornered into a certain kind of isolation and it is clear to us that we have a responsibility to try to moderate, to ease tensions with all neighbors,” he added.
Barak said Israel is ready for negotiations and wants the Palestinians to come to the table with no conditions.
He criticized the Palestinian leadership for unilaterally submitting a bid for full membership at the United Nations, saying the action proves that there are limits to the Palestinians’ capacity to navigate the world.
The U.S. government opposes the bid and says it would veto a resolution if it came to a vote in the United Nations Security Council.
Secretary Panetta held closed-door meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah, and later with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.