European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is scheduled to fly in to Jerusalem on Wednesday, to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a rundown of developments in nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers. The meeting is apparently an effort to prevent Israel from speaking out publicly against the talks.
Ashton's visit, expected to last several hours, comes ahead of the second round of talks, which will begin May 23 in Baghdad.
After the first round of talks in Istanbul last month, Netanyahu accused the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany of giving Iran a "freebie" by providing it with more time to enrich uranium, before the second round of talks. U.S. President Barack Obama has rejected the claim.
Ashton's visit was planned during a visit to Europe this week by National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, said a senior Israeli official.
Amidror met in Brussels with Ashton's deputy, Helga Schmid, who informed him of the strategy undertaken by the negotiating team of the six world powers. The team is headed by Ashton.
The meeting is unusual, because Ashton will meet only with Netanyahu and will not be visiting Ramallah. The Israeli government source said that's because the only topic under discussion will be the Iranian nuclear talks.
Ashton is expected to personally tell Netanyahu about the first round of nuclear talks and about preparations for the next round, in an effort to assuage his concerns that a deal is in the works that would authorize Iran to continue enriching uranium.
Netanyahu is also concerned that Iran will secure a pledge for a suspension of sanctions, including the oil embargo scheduled to go into effect July 1, in exchange for a partial freeze on uranium enrichment. The embargo would be a serious blow to the Iranian economy.
A senior European diplomat who is knowledgeable about the nuclear talks said European officials have been quite pleased with the firm stance Ashton has taken in the negotiations so far.
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