JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel’s new Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman is to visit the United States this weekend for talks with his US counterpart, his office said Thursday, after Washington raised concerns over the hardliner’s appointment.
Lieberman’s trip will be his first abroad since being sworn in on May 30, though he is familiar to US officials from an earlier stint as foreign minister.
It comes with the United States and Israel in the process of negotiating a new 10-year defence aid pact to replace the current one, which expires in 2018 and grants the Jewish state more than $3 billion per year.
Lieberman leaves on Saturday and is set to meet US Defence Secretary Ashton Carton on Monday.
He will also attend a ceremony in Dallas next Wednesday marking the development of US defence firm Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet, which Israel is purchasing, and tour a factory of Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems.
Following Lieberman’s nomination, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, in a rare comment on Israeli internal politics, said the Jewish state’s new ruling coalition raised “legitimate questions” over Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution in its conflict with the Palestinians.
Lieberman’s appointment tilted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet, already seen as among the most right wing in Israeli history, even further to the right.
Both Netanyahu and Lieberman have however sought to allay concerns over the appointment, saying they are committed to peace and the two-state solution.
Netanyahu himself has also had a rocky relationship with US President Barack Obama’s administration, but the two leaders have sought to move past their disagreements in recent months and negotiate the new defence deal.