"We're running out of time to address the Iranian threat," said Defense Minister and Labor Chairman Ehud Barak on Thursday. "The U.S. administration is getting ready to conduct dialogue with Iran. We are convinced that the dialogue must be confined to a short period of time while simultaneously stepping up sanctions."
Earlier, at a Labor Party conference in Tel Aviv, Barak explained that the U.S. dialogue must be confined to a short time frame in order to rapidly determine whether "there is or isn't a chance."
Speaking later at an event sponsored by a Jordan valley college in memory of former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Dan Shomron, Barak said that it was "essential for Israel to keep all the options on the table, while standing behind its declarations."
"It is important first to reach an understanding with the new U.S. administration of [President Barack] Obama," Barak continued. "A strategic understanding with the U.S. is crucial, and possible. We must try to renew the negotiations with the Palestinians and with Syria, but we must do so from a position of power while fighting for Israel's interests."
Earlier Thursday, in efforts to recuperate from a humiliating election, in which the party won a dismal 13 of the 120 Knesset seats, the party hosted a conference in Tel Aviv, but the tense atmosphere among party members caused the event to end on a sour note.
At the conference, Barak addressed the tension between Israel and Hamas, saying "I too don't like the trickle of Qassam rockets, but I have no doubt that we're headed toward a truce."
Referring to a recent dismissal of top Egypt negotiator Amos Gilad, and subsequent reinstatement by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Barak said "after the grave crisis with Amos Gilad has been solved, we can rapidly approach the task of completing agreements with Egypt, which play a central role in the battle against arms smuggling."
Barak also addressed Israel's efforts to secure the release of Israel Defense Forces Soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Gaza militants in 2006, saying "I hope that we will be able to bring Gilad home before the end of the current administration." Olmert's term is expected to end in a few weeks, once Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu establishes a coalition.
"There is no link between Shalit's release and the cease-fire agreement with the Palestinians in the wake of Operation Cast Lead," Barak said, contradicting remarks previously made by Olmert, who insisted that there would be no agreement until Shalit is released.
The defense minister also touched on his party's painful election results, saying "we suffered a serious blow and the responsibility lies with me, that is why I intend to take responsibility, that is to say continue leading the Labor Party."
Toward the end of the conference, Barak confidant Pini Kabalo took the podium and thanked his fellow party members, but associates of former party leader Amir Peretz voiced outrage over kabalo's omission of Peretz' campaign efforts. "Which Peretz are you referring to," Kabalo lashed out, "the one who called on people to stay home on election day?"
Shouts and accusations ensued, until party secretary general Eitan Cabel had no choice but to close the meeting, saying "this is disrespectful, it is chutzpah."
The dispute came in the wake of Peretz' announcement that he would be running for party leadership in the next primary and his call on Barak to resign.
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