"You won't get any 'Israbluff' with me. Israel undertook obligations regarding the road map and it will honor them, but there must be reciprocity," Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview with Haaretz just hours after being sworn in as foreign minister. He criticized the previous government for failing to meet its commitments. "How many outposts did Olmert, Barak and Livni evacuate? How many roadblocks did they remove?"
At the handover ceremony at the Foreign Ministry Wednesday afternoon, Lieberman sounded an aggressive foreign policy stance, emphasizing that the new government is not bound by the Annapolis process, under which former prime minister Ehud Olmert and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni conducted negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on the core issues of a final-status arrangement.
"Whoever thinks that he will achieve something by way of concessions - no, he will only invite more pressure and more wars," Lieberman said. "If you want peace, prepare for war.
The ceremony was attended by dozens of diplomats, many of whom registered discernible shock at the messages of the new minister that they will soon have to sell abroad. Livni violated protocol by speaking up and contradicting her successor, saying that actually Israel was indeed committed to the Annapolis process. After Lieberman ended his remarks, Livni told him: "You've convinced me that I was right not to join the government."
A spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council commented Thursday on Lieberman's remarks. "The president has said many times that we are committed to the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security," Mike Hammer said.
'There must be reciprocity'
Speaking to Haaretz Thursday, Lieberman tried to tone down his rhetoric slightly. "I am committed to the road map of 2003 as approved by the Israeli cabinet," he said, referring to the outline for achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace proposed by then-president Bush. "I voted against it, but it is a cabinet resolution and I am bound by it."
He added that the new U.S. administration itself no longer talks about the Annapolis process. "I propose following the road map, phase by phase," he said. "I recently went quite far with my remarks, even saying that I was willing to leave my home at the Nokdim settlement if there was a cabinet resolution on the issue, but we can't give all this up for nothing, and there must be reciprocity."
Lieberman stressed that he would endeavor to meet all Israeli obligations regarding the road map. "Unlike others, we will carry out everything that is in writing, and there will be no contradiction between what we say and what we mean, but we will stick to the phased nature of the road map. We will conduct talks with the PA, but we want to make sure their 'checks' don't bounce. The Palestinians must first of all confront terror, take control of Gaza and demilitarize Hamas. Without these, it will be difficult to move forward."
Regarding Syria, Lieberman said: "There is no cabinet resolution regarding negotiations with Syria, and we have already said that we will not agree to withdraw from the Golan Heights. Peace will only be in exchange for peace."
Lieberman received his first invitation to an official visit abroad Thursday, in a congratulatory phone call from his Italian counterpart, Franco Frattini. He also spoke with the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and with Spain's foreign minister, Miguel Moratinos.
In his Foreign Ministry speech Thursday Lieberman referred to relations with Egypt, in light of his harsh criticism of President Hosni Mubarak a few months ago. In a conciliatory gesture he said, "Egypt is an important element in the Arab world and in the world in general. I would certainly be happy to visit Egypt, but I'll also be happy to see Egypt's leaders visit here. I respect others and want them to respect us; I support the principle of reciprocity."
In a message aimed at Israel's diplomatic corps and Foreign Ministry employees, Lieberman said the ministry's new director-general will be appointed from among the ranks of the corps, rather than from outside. He also emphasized that meetings in his office will be held between the hours of 7:30 A.M. and 10 P.M. only.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Lieberman early Thursday, according to Lieberman spokeswoman Irena Etinger.
"The conversation was conducted in a good atmosphere, and the two agreed to meet as soon as possible," Etinger said. She would not say what issues were discussed.
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