Israeli defense minister arrives in Washington for working visit

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is arriving in Washington for a working visit with American officials Thursday, the Israeli embassy announced today.

On his one-day trip to Washington, Barak will hold meetings with Vice President Joseph Biden at the White House; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the State Department; and his new counterpart, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, the embassy said. On Friday, Barak will meet in New York with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

The visit comes amid frustrated efforts by the United States and international community to get agreement for relaunched Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, ahead of Palestinian plans to seek recognition at the UN in late September.

There are no real expectations that Barak's consultations in the U.S. this week will result in any breakthrough on stalled peace process efforts, a source who consulted with the administration on the visit told the Envoy.

The Obama White House has similarly told allied nation diplomats in recent days there is not yet meaningful progress to report in its diplomatic efforts to get relaunched talks. A less than promising precedent was set two weeks ago at an uncomfortable meeting of the Middle East Quartet--the U.S., Russia, UN and European Union--in Washington. The veteran foreign ministers and statesmen hosted by Secretary Clinton could not even agree on a statement to issue after the dinner meeting, much less an action plan for bringing the warring parties back to the peace table (see more).

The "Americans told us they could bring the parties together," one diplomatic official told the Envoy on condition of anonymity to express frustration with Washington's handling of the issue. But the traditional American approach "is to pre-negotiate with the Israelis and then tell [the Quartet members] you should ... endorse [what the U.S. and Israel agreed]. That's a problem dealing with sovereign countries."

Separately, Israeli ambassador Michael Oren was spotted having lunch today at the Oval Room with National Security Council human rights and multilateral organizations adviser Samantha Power, restaurant-goers told the Envoy.

No word yet on what was the subject of today's lunch, but one person who spotted them suggested the White House may simply be trying to step up its outreach efforts. Power is also the White House point person on international organizations. That includes the United Nations, which held a tense meeting yesterday on Palestinian statehood aspirations that may be a preview of September's dynamics.

Though Power's portfolio is not as dominated by the Middle East as that of some of her colleagues, she and Oren share among other things that in addition to their policymaking duties, they are both authors of widely-respected non-fiction books. Power won the Pulitzer Prize for her book on genocide, The Problem from Hell and wrote a more recent biography of her friend, the late Brazilian diplomat and UN humanitarian envoy Sergio de Mello, who was killed in the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq. Oren's books include Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, and the recent Power, Faith and Fantasy, on America's role in the Middle East since 1776.

(Observed thumbing through the latter tome at a Washington book store a few Sundays ago: Power's boss, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. Presumably not just for pleasure reading as America's role in the Middle East is a subject consuming an inordinate amount of Donilon's time.)