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Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu sidelined Israel's ambassador to the United States Sallai Meridor Wednesday, asking him to leave the room during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Jerusalem.

Meridor was asked to leave even though U.S. Ambassador to Israel James Cunningham and the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, remained at the meeting. Two other Israeli aides stayed with Netanyahu - Prof. Uzi Arad and attorney Yitzhak Molcho.

"The Americans decided that only three participants from each side stay in the meeting," Netanyahu's office said yesterday. "Therefore, Molcho stayed because of the Palestinian issue and Arad because of the Iranian issue. Netanyahu greatly respects Meridor."

Molcho, a longtime Netanyahu associate, worked for Netanyahu during his first term as prime minister between 1996 and 1999. Many observers believe Molcho will become Netanyahu's go-between with the White House, an unofficial position similar to the role attorney Dov Weissglas held under former prime minister Ariel Sharon.

Arad, another close associate of Netanyahu, is expected to be appointed to head the National Security Council despite his ban on entering the United States because of his alleged contacts with Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin, who has been convicted of passing information to Israel.

An unexpected attendee at the meeting was former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas, an associate of Labor Party leader Ehud Barak. Pinkas became friends with Clinton during his tenure in New York and has recently been advising Netanyahu on Israel's ties with the United States.