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Sunday, Oct 19, 2014

World

Israel's Yaalon in US after spat over Kerry remarks

AFP | Sunday, Oct 19, 2014

JERUSALEM - Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon sought to calm fresh tensions with Washington on Sunday as he began a five-day trip to the United States.

In a statement released ahead of his departure, Yaalon warned that no dispute should be allowed to "cast a shadow" over Israel's crucial relationship with its closest ally.

"The relationship between the United States and Israel is based on shared interests and values, and disputes of one sort or another must not cast a shadow over it," he said.

On Friday, two senior Israeli cabinet ministers took aim at US Secretary of State John Kerry over remarks linking the growth of Islamic extremism to Israel's decades-long conflict with the Palestinians.

At issue was a statement by Kerry in which he said regional leaders approached him over the need to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians "because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation".

The two ministers seized on his words as linking the Middle East conflict to the rise of the Islamic State group (IS) in Iraq and Syria.

One said Kerry had set "a new record" in lack of understanding of the region, while the other suggested his comments had anti-Semitic undertones.

Their outbursts drew a sharp retort from State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, who said they had taken his comments out of context.

"It is an inaccurate reading of what the secretary said. He did not make a linkage between Israel and the growth of ISIL, period," Harf told reporters on Friday, using the US acronym for IS.

Either they had misread Kerry's remarks "or someone is engaging in the politics of distortion," she said.

During Yaalon's trip, which will take him to Washington and New York, he will meet with his US counterpart Chuck Hagel and other top defence officials, his office said.

He will also hold talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Washington's UN ambassador Samantha Power.

Discussions will focus on issues including the Iran nuclear talks, Israel's 50 day war in Gaza and the international fight against Islamic extremist groups, it said.

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