Acting National Security Adviser Brig. Gen. Yaakov Nagel told political reporters on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is interested in signing a new military aid agreement with the United States while President Barak Obama is still in office, but only if the deal answers Israel's needs.
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“Unequivocally, we want to reach an agreement with the Obama Administration, but not at any price,” he said. “Figure out for yourself what that means.”
Nagel said that during the past seven months of negotiations with the White House he visited the United States five times, meeting with Yael Lempert, the person responsible or the Israeli file at the White House and who heads the American negotiations team, and with National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
Nagel's last White House visit was two weeks ago, he said. He has since then also spoken to Rice and Lampert at least once a week, and their last conversation was on Friday.
"The atmosphere is good with the Americans, there is no cold shoulder nor any conflict or problem," Nagel said.
He said there were still differences of opinion as to how much aid would be forthcoming. Israel is asking for 40 to 50 billion dollars over 10 years and the U.S. is offering $34-37 billion for that period.
Nagel said there were also still differences over the portion of the package Isasel could use to purchase its own locally produced military equipment. Currently it may use 26.3 percent of annual U.S. aid for local purchases. The Americans want to reduce this sum gradually with the aim of bringing it down to zero in the coming years.
"We have our position and they have theirs," Nagel said. "We hope to achieve an agreement and perhaps some people would be surprised. We are negotiating for the best deal possible deal and moving toward a wrapup of the talks. When we reach the conclusion that we have reached the last possible offer, we will make a decision. In any case, we are at a stage in which we are toward the end of the process."
Nagel said the statement the White House published last night about its military budget for 2017, which included a reference to the level of aid to Israel for missile defense, is an internal American matter ertaining to a debate between the White House and Conress.
"We don't think it’s a sign from America to Israel that has anything t do with negotiations over the current aid deal," nagel said. "One has nothing to do with the other."
Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken arrived in Israel on Wednesday as head of a delegation of 19 officials taking part in a strategic dialogue being held at the Foreign Ministry on Thursday.
Blinken gave a briefing on Friday to Jewish organization officials and made clear the negotiations with Israel over the aid package are in effect, over. Two sources at that briefing told Haaretz that Blinken said the deal the U.S. has offered Israel wil not change at this point and that the ball is in Netanyahu's court.
"Blinken said the Israeli prime minister is the one who needs to decide whether to sign the deal now or wait for the next president," one of the sources said.
Nagel rejected these remarks and said the negotiations were still not over. He said Blinken is not a party to the talks and therefore he doubted whether he was privy to the details known by only a small circle of aides.
"I don't think he is completely aware of all the details," Nagel said.