Closer US-Russia ties uncertain as Tillerson plans trip

WASHINGTON — With Russia-tinged investigations swirling around his administration, President Donald Trump has yet to fulfill a campaign pledge of closer cooperation with Moscow. A planned trip by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Russia could test if detente proves anything more than talk.

In a move alarming U.S. allies, Tillerson plans to skip a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Belgium next month, according to U.S. officials. The top American diplomat almost always attends such gatherings, and Tillerson will follow up his absence in Brussels by traveling to Russia’s capital shortly afterward.

The juxtaposition of the trips — one taken and one avoided — has reinforced concerns about America’s commitment to NATO, which Trump has repeatedly fueled by dressing down allies as deadbeats who aren’t paying enough for their own defense and who take U.S. help for granted.

Trump will take part in a meeting of NATO heads of state in Brussels on May 25, the White House announced Tuesday. Spokesman Sean Spicer said the president looks forward to discussing “issues critical to the alliance, especially allied responsibility-sharing and NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism.”

As far as the U.S-Russia relationship, Trump has yet to make any major steps as president to bring the two nations closer together.

As a candidate, Trump opened the door to potentially rolling back the sanctions imposed on Russia after its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014, a move Democrats and Republicans in Congress oppose. But as president, Trump has tamped down such suggestions as long as Russia fails to live up to its various commitments to end the fighting in Ukraine.

His administration also has resisted Russia’s calls to join forces against the Islamic State group in Syria, where the former Cold War foes have long backed opposing sides in a civil war. The Pentagon is continuing only what it calls U.S.-Russian “deconfliction” contacts, designed to ensure their forces don’t accidentally collide on Syria’s crowded battlefield and contested skies.

But Trump’s biggest roadblock to a new Russia approach may be the political realities at home.

In a remarkable public disclosure Monday, FBI Director James Comey said the bureau is investigating whether Trump campaign associates coordinated with Russian officials as Moscow sought to sway the U.S. presidential election. Several congressional committees are also investigating, ensuring the allegations of Russian meddling — and questions about Trump campaign collusion — stay in the spotlight for months to come.

Trump has denied any collaboration between his campaign and Russia. As a candidate, he spoke frequently of his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and said improving relations with the traditional U.S. adversary would be positive. He argued that Russia shared America’s goal of defeating IS extremists.

That’s about as far as the new relationship has gone.

“Tillerson will need to publicly outline what he hopes to accomplish when he visits Moscow and what is the basis for U.S. policy toward Russia,” said Heather Conley at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The prospect of Washington and Moscow teaming up, given Russia’s recent actions in Ukraine, has sent chills through much of Europe. Candidate Trump exacerbated concerns by calling NATO “obsolete” and suggested the U.S. might not defend allies if they aren’t paying enough for collective defense. As president, Trump has insisted the U.S. is fully committed to NATO.

Few are convinced. Western diplomats and some U.S. lawmakers expressed alarm Tuesday with Tillerson’s decision to skip the upcoming NATO meeting and travel shortly afterward to Russia. Some Europeans see the decision as a U-turn from Vice President Mike Pence’s pledges about safeguarding the alliance in Munich last month.

While other NATO countries send their foreign ministers — who include an ex-prime minister, top parliamentarians and several former defense chiefs — to Brussels, the U.S. will dispatch Tom Shannon, a career diplomat serving as the State Department’s No. 3 official. (The No. 2 slot of deputy secretary is among dozens of unfilled posts.)

“We’ll take care of the representation. This is something to be worked out, no problem,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Tuesday.

The State Department wouldn’t provide details Tuesday about the purpose of Tillerson’s trip to Russia or whom he would meet there.

Spokesman Mark Toner said Tillerson’s schedule would not allow him to attend the NATO meeting, saying the U.S. proposed alternative dates. He didn’t elaborate, but Trump is expected to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a highly anticipated meeting around the same time.

In any case, Tillerson is meeting with almost every NATO country’s foreign minister in Washington this week, officials said. Yet that gathering is focused on fighting the Islamic State, not on NATO’s key concern: Russia.

Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2-ranked House Democrat, said Tillerson was sending a “dangerous signal to our allies and adversaries.”

“Vladimir Putin’s Russia has not done anything to merit such engagement,” Hoyer said.

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Co-founder of BDS movement arrested in Israel for tax evasion

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel was arrested in Israel for tax evasion.

Omar Barghouti, a Qatari-born Palestinian who lives in northern Israel with his Israeli-Arab wife, was arrested Monday and questioned before being released a few hours later on bail, the Israeli business daily Globes reported. He was banned from leaving the country and required to leave his passport with the court in Haifa, according to reports.

He received permanent residency status in Israel in 1994.

Barghouti, of Acre, is accused of failing to report about $700,000 in income over the past decade that he earned while working as the director of National Computing Resources in Ramallah, according to Globes. He allegedly deposited the money in a Ramallah bank, which kept it hidden from Israeli authorities. He also deposited speaking fees he made from lecturing around the world in a U.S. bank.

A search of Barghouti’s home found documents and credit cards that supported suspicions that he had an undeclared bank account in the United States, Globes reported.

Barghouti is scheduled to travel to the United States in April to receive the Gandhi Peace Prize at Yale University, which is awarded annually by the government of India to individuals or organizations that have engaged in political, economic or social change in nonviolent ways.

Barghouti rejects the concept of Israel as a Jewish state as well as a two-state solution, favoring instead one secular state for both Jews and Palestinians, according to Globes.

The BDS movement was launched in 2005.

DEFENSE MINISTER WARNS OF EU DIPLOMATIC ‘ASSAULT’ AGAINST ISRAEL BY END OF THE YEAR

 

http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Defense-Minister-warns-of-EU-diplomatic-assault-against-Israel-by-end-of-the-year-484811

 

The European Union is planning a diplomatic “assault” against Israel by the end of the year once a number of major leadership elections on that continent are over, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Tuesday night.

“After this long election period — I understand from talks with friends in Europe and Brussels — we can expect a [diplomatic] assault by the EU against Israel.

 

“You don’t need any [special] information to know this. You just have to read the official statements and all the debates in the EU Parliament, that you can find on the foreign ministry websites,” he said while attending the Meir Dagan Conference at the Netanya Academic College.

Liberman listed some of the tensions that had already arisen with the EU, such as decision by Germany to delay by a year a special annual government-to-government meeting that occurs with Israel.

There was also an attempt to transform the conclusions of December’s Paris peace summit into the official EU platform, Liberman said.

His remarks come as Israel and the EU prepare to upgrade their diplomatic ties, by holding a meeting of the Israel-EU Association Council, which has not met for the last five years.

A tentative date of February 28 was set for the meeting, but it was not finalized and no new date has been set.

Israel has a relationship with the EU that is almost akin to that of a member state when it comes to economics, education, culture, technology, scientific research and medicine.

But the two governments are sharply divided over the issue of West Bank settlements. In the absence of a peace process, the EU has increasingly turned its frustration over Israel settlement activity into action.

It published guidelines so that its member states could place consumer labels on settlement products indicating that they were not made in Israel.

It has also supported illegal Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli military and civil rule.

US President Donald Trump is seeking to renew the peace process, which broke down in 2014. His special envoy Jason Greenblatt visited Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories last week. An Israeli delegation is in Washington this week, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff Yoav Horowitz. The Israeli officials are talking with the Trump Administration about a common understanding with regard to settlement activity.

“It’s important to find a text that will satisfy both sides. If someone thinks we can do what we want here [with regard to settlement activity], they are mistaken,” Liberman said.

Liberman himself lives in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim and supports settlement activity.

However, he has warned against the drive by right-wing politicians to annex Area C of the West Bank, starting with Ma’aleh Adumim.

He told the audience at the Meir Dagan Conference that he has received phone calls from Washington anting to know about this legislation and he told them that there was zero chance it would pass the Knesset.

Liberman has urged constraint with regard to settlement activity until Israel and the US come to an agreement on the issue.

“We had eight-difficult years with the Obama Administration. Now have a pure Republican government, with a majority in the House and the Senate, and of course a friendly Republican president in the White House,” Liberman said.

He cautioned Israeli politicians to be careful about their statements and legislative initiatives because their words were heard as far away as the White House.

“There are things we can do and things we cannot do unilaterally,” he said.

‘IF ANTISEMITIC PARTIES RISE TO POWER, WE WILL CALL ON EUROPEAN JEWS TO FLEE’

 

A European Jewish leader said Monday that the rise of extremist parties in Europe could ultimately lead to an exodus of Jews from countries where antisemitism is becoming increasingly visible.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Rabbinical Center of Europe in Pomezia, Italy, the organization’s director, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, warned that it will not be long before extremist parties which now have a great deal of power become the ruling parties in Europe.

 

He warned that the “tolerant attitude” of European governments toward extremism in countries where there are many manifestations of antisemitism could lead to a mass exodus of Jews from those countries.

“It is superfluous to say that a country ruled by an antisemitic party is a red line, and if we reach that situation we will call on the Jews of Europe to flee from those countries,” Margolin said.

More than 200 rabbis from across Europe attended the three-day conference, the 16th annual meeting of the group, which gathers in a different country each year.

The rise and prominence of extreme right-wing parties was a matter serious of concern discussed by attendees, along with issues of personal security, protection of community buildings and synagogues, and the preservation of Jewish life.

Other topics included assimilation, maintaining interest in Jewish identity by the young generation, conversion and religious observance in the era of technology.

As part of the conference, the community leaders met with ambassadors and government officials to discuss assistance to Jewish communities and ways to strengthen their status and to increase their security.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef joined the conference on Tuesday.

EU: ANNEXING MA’ALEH ADUMIM WOULD DAMAGE TIES WITH ISRAEL

 

The European Union on Tuesday warned Israel that annexing the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim would damage the Jewish state’s diplomatic ties with the union.

“It would be seen very negatively by the EU. It would have a strong detrimental impact on our relations,” said Mark Gallagher, who is the Charge D’Affaires for the EU embassy in Israel. Gallagher made the remark at the conference “The Arab Peace Initiative at 15-years,” which was held at the Hebrew University.

 

“It is no secret that those relations have come under a certain amount of strain due to the same settlement expansions and the Regulation Law,” he said, referencing the new Settlements Law the Knesset passed in February, which retroactively legalizes settler homes on privately-owned Palestinian property and offers to compensate the Palestinian landowners.

“We do not want to see unilateral moves taken now at this very sensitive time,” Gallagher said.

He spoke in response to a question by The Jerusalem Post about a legislative drive by right-wing politicians to annex Ma’aleh Adumim.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to sway the politicians to delay the legislation until the Knesset’s next session in May.

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov warned that an annexation of Ma’aleh Adumim would spark renewed Palestinian violence against Israelis.

“What is most dangerous is not just the fact that this will break international law and Israel will be in violation of a number of its obligations,” Mladenov said.

“Such a step is likely to spiral violence and I do not think that is what anyone wants,” Mladenov said.

“The situation among Palestinians is very tense. People are angry.

As much as Israelis are resigned to the fact that peace efforts have not brought peace, Palestinians are angry that peace efforts have not brought about statehood,” he stressed.

While these remarks came as warnings, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman at The Meir Dagan Conference in the Netanya Academic Conference said he believed that settlement activity had already harmed Israeli-EU ties.

He warned the EU would move against Israel later in the year after number of major leadership elections on that continent are over.

“After this long election period — I understand from talks with friends in Europe and Brussels — we can expect a [diplomatic] assault by the EU against Israel.

“You don’t need any [special] information to know this. You just have to read the official statements and all the debates in the EU Parliament, that you can find on the foreign ministry websites,” he said.

Liberman himself lives in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim and supports settlement activity.

However, he has warned against the drive by right-wing politicians to annex Area C of the West Bank, starting with Ma’aleh Adumim.

He told the audience at the Meir Dagan Conference that he has received phone calls from Washington anting to know about this legislation and he told them that there was zero chance it would pass the Knesset.

At Hebrew University MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) said that annexation of Area C of the West Bank was a defects-way of recognizing the Palestinian right of return.

Palestinians living in the annexed territory would have be given citizenship, whereas in a negotiated two-state solution those same Palestinians would become citizens of a Palestinian state, she said.

Iran says it’s ‘completely ready’ to restart nuclear program

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Monday that Tehran is “completely ready” to restart its nuclear program if the US fails to live up to its commitments under the July 2015 nuclear deal.

“If [the] US creates a situation that continuation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action would damage Tehran’s national interest, then Iran is completely ready to come back to the situation it had prior to the JCPOA even more powerfully than before,” Zarif was quoted by Iranian state media as saying.

The foreign minister spoke to reporters in Isfahan in central Iran.

On the campaign trail during last year’s election, US President Donald Trump and many Republican lawmakers vowed to gut the deal once in office. But since the election, the Trump administration has signaled a gentler approach, though it has not provided details of its new policy.

Earlier this month, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said “the new administration of the United States just started and they are looking at this issue,” but “it is very early for them to give their assessment.”

The agreement saw Iran scale down substantially its nuclear activities and submit to close inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency in exchange for relief from painful sanctions.

The accord extends the “breakout time” needed for Iran to accumulate enough fissile material for a bomb to at least a year, giving the international community time to react, according to proponents and the administration of former US president Barack Obama, which helped negotiate the agreement.

In his Monday comments in Isfahan, Zarif said Iran was “committed to the promises it has made” and that the regime’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei had stipulated that Iran “is not to break them,” according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

But, he warned, it could do so very quickly if the agreement falls through, and the restored nuclear program would be more advanced that the one mostly frozen by the 2015 deal.

“During the past couple of months, with the efforts made by skilled Iranian scientists and experts, we have succeeded [in making] operational the most advanced centrifuges, that were just an idea at the time of approving the JCPOA,” Zarif is quoted as saying.

The Mehr News Agency quoted him saying the new centrifuges “would enrich uranium 20 times faster and more efficiently,” and that “the technical know-how has now been indigenized.”

He accused the US of repeatedly failing to fulfill its commitments under the deal, but said “pursuing the JCPOA is still justifiable for Iran” for economic reasons.

Iran has always denied wanting nuclear weapons, saying its activities are purely peaceful. The international community vehemently disagreed, and placed a strict sanctions regime on Iran for much of the past decade, until Tehran agreed to halting its program in the 2015 deal.

Besides the US and Iran, the other signatories to the JCPOA — Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany — oppose ending the agreement

North Korea a larger global threat than Iran, Liberman says

North Korea’s burgeoning nuclear weapons program poses more of a threat to world order than Iran, or any other terrorist group, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Tuesday.

“North Korea stands at the top of the priority list,” the defense minister said at a conference in Netanya held in memory of former Mossad chief Meir Dagan.

Liberman said Pyongyang “seems to have crossed the red line with its recent nuclear tests.”

Liberman’s speech at the Netanya Academic College took a more global approach to terror threats, saying it wasn’t just the Middle East that is facing upheaval.

“The entire world is in the midst of a squall,” he said.

The defense minister went on to say that Iran, with its widespread support for terrorist organizations, was the second biggest threat to global security.

Illustrative: People watch the news showing file footage of North Korea's missile launch at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea on February 12, 2017. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP)

The third threat facing the world, according to Liberman, are terrorist organizations armed with advanced missiles and unconventional weapons.

“We’re just ahead of a new era of accurate missile and unconventional weapons in the hands irrational people,” Liberman said.

In apparent reference to recent reported Israeli strikes on Hezbollah targets in Syria, Liberman said Israel did not want to get involved in the country’s years-long civil war, but it would “not tolerate” the threat of advanced missiles in the hands of terrorists.

“We’re not looking for adventures, but we will work against it at any opportunity,” he said.

Looking locally, Liberman encouraged his fellow lawmakers to keep their expectations about Donald Trump’s administration in line with reality.

“We don’t have the option to fight with Donald Trump,” he said.

“If someone thinks that we are going to work unilaterally, they have not seen the situational assessment,” Liberman said, referring to calls by some right-wing lawmakers to annex portions of the West Bank.

He said annexing the territory would cost Israel some NIS 20 billion.

While telling Israeli politicians to keep their “slogans” in check, he noted that there was opportunity for better US-Israel relations under the current administration.

“It’s a Republican government, not a Donald Trump government,” Liberman said.

The right-wing now dominates the US Congress, the Supreme Court, and there is a “very friendly” president in the White House, he added.

No electronics ban on flights to US from Israel

Flights from Israel will not be subject to the temporary ban on passengers on US-bound flights bringing electronic devices such as laptops and iPads on board in their carry-on luggage, an Israeli official said Tuesday.

“As of now Israel has not heard of any changes to the policy. We are not on the list,” Ofer Lefler, a spokesman for Israel’s Airports Authority told The Times of Israel.

The ban, which takes effect on Tuesday on a number of Middle Eastern airlines, was revealed Monday in statements from Royal Jordanian Airlines and the official news agency of Saudi Arabia.

A US official said the ban will apply to nonstop flights to the US from 10 airports in eight countries. The official did not name the airports or the countries. The official was not authorized to disclose the details of the ban ahead of a public announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity.

El Al has not received any such instructions.

The reason for the ban was not immediately clear. David Lapan, a spokesman for Homeland Security Department, declined to comment. The Transportation Security Administration, part of Homeland Security, also declined to comment.

In this Jan. 7, 2016 file photo, a laptop is seen in Las Vegas. Royal Jordanian Airlines is advising passengers that laptops, iPads, cameras and other electronics won’t be allowed in carry-on luggage for US-bound flights starting Tuesday, March 21, 2017. (AP/John Locher, File)

Royal Jordanian said cellphones and medical devices were excluded from the ban. Everything else, the airline said, would need to be packed in checked luggage. It was unclear to what other countries and airlines the ban would apply.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly phoned lawmakers over the weekend to brief them on aviation security issues that have prompted the impending electronics ban, according to a congressional aide briefed on the discussion. The aide was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A US government official said such a ban had been considered for several weeks. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose the internal security discussions by the federal government.

Royal Jordanian said the electronics ban affects its flights to New York, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal. The Saudi statement said flights from Riyadh and Jeddah would be impacted.

The ban would begin just before Wednesday’s meeting of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Washington. A number of top Arab officials were expected to attend the State Department gathering. It was unclear whether their travel plans were related to any increased worry about security threats.

Brian Jenkins, an aviation-security expert at the Rand Corp., said the nature of the security measure suggested that it was driven by intelligence of a possible attack. He added that there could be concern about inadequate passenger screening or even conspiracies involving insiders — airport or airline employees — in some countries.

Another aviation-security expert, professor Jeffrey Price of Metropolitan State University of Denver, said there were disadvantages to having everyone put their electronics in checked baggage. Thefts from baggage would skyrocket, as when Britain tried a similar ban in 2006, he said, and some laptops have batteries that can catch fire — an event easier to detect in the cabin than in the cargo hold.

Most major airports in the United States have a computer tomography or CT scanner for checked baggage, which creates a detailed picture of a bag’s contents. They can warn an operator of potentially dangerous material, and may provide better security than the X-ray machines used to screen passengers and their carry-on bags. All checked baggage must be screened for explosives.

Netanyahu denies Russia told Israel to halt airstrikes in Syria

BEIJING — Russia has not changed its policy on coordination with the Israeli air force in Syria, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, denying reports that Moscow had told Israel to end airstrikes in the war-torn country and vowing to continue attacking weapons convoys.

“It’s simply incorrect to say the Russians are changing their policy toward us,” he said.

The report on Russia changing its stance came after an Israeli airstrike on Friday to which Syria responded by firing anti-aircraft missiles at the departing Israeli warplanes. The Israeli strike reportedly nearly missed a Russian asset and Moscow summoned the Israeli envoy following the exchange.

Netanyahu said that he told Russian President Vladimir Putin during a March 9 meeting that Israel will continue to thwart attempts by Iran and its terrorist proxies, such as Hezbollah, to smuggle advanced weapons to Lebanon via Syria.

“My policy is consistent, and this is also what I told Putin,” the prime minister said during a visit to China. “We will not allow Israel to be attacked from Syrian territory and we will not tolerate the transfer of advanced weaponry of those entering Syria — Hezbollah — to the extent that we detect it.”

Netanyahu said Israel was targeting Iranian attempts to move advanced arms within Syria, and that he had told Putin as much during their Moscow sit-down.

“It’s our policy to strike at the convoys of sophisticated weaponry, and the Iranians continue with them. We will continue to attack whenever the Iranians smuggle advanced arms. Therefore we need this personal connection [with Putin], which is important for Israel’s national security,” Netanyahu said.

“If there’s intelligence and operational feasibility, we strike, and so it will continue,” he told reporters in his Beijing hotel as he wrapped up the official part of his three-day visit to Chinese capital.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting in Moscow on March 9, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Pavel Golovkin)

Israel reportedly launched several attacks on targets in Syria in recent days, one of which on Friday nearly hit Russian troops stationed in the area. Less than 24 hours later Moscow summoned Israel’s ambassador to Russia, Gary Koren, to note its protest. Syria’s ambassador to the UN later said that Russia had changed its policy and no longer grants Israel freedom of action over Syrian skies.

Israel officially acknowledged one strike on Syrian territory.

Israel does not inform the Russian forces stationed in Syria ahead of attack there, out of fear for the Israeli pilots, according to an Israeli source.

“It’s not simple. We are very careful not to hit whoever is not supposed to be hit,” Netanyahu told reporters travelling with him in China.

The Israeli-Russian process to prevent an accidental clash, in which officials from both sides ensure that each others’ forces do not get in each other’s way, requires constant maintenance, he added. “I am not traveling to Moscow simply to chat,” he said.

The Israeli military said its aircraft on Friday struck several targets in Syria and were back in Israeli-controlled airspace when several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria toward the jets. One incoming missile was shot down by an Arrow defense battery, while two more landed in Israel, causing neither injury nor damage.

The army said the Arrow was deployed — a first for the system — against the Syrian surface-to-air missile because the projectile “behaved like a ballistic threat.”

The Arrow 3 missile defense system that was delivered to the Israeli Air Force on January 18, 2017. (Defense Ministry)

Syria complained to the United Nations secretary-general and to the director of the UN Security Council calling the Israeli attacks a violation of international law and of Syrian sovereignty.

The Syrian army said the Israeli strikes were conducted to support “[Islamic State] terrorist gangs and in a desperate attempt to raise their deteriorating morale and divert attention away from the victories which Syrian Arab Army is making in the face of the terrorist organizations,” a statement read.

Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war raging next door, suffering mostly sporadic incidents of spillover fire that Israel has generally dismissed as tactical errors by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces. Israel has responded to the errant fire with limited reprisals on Syrian positions.

The skies over Syria are now crowded, with Russian and Syrian aircraft backing Assad’s forces and a US-led coalition striking Islamic State and al-Qaeda targets.

Israel is widely believed to have carried out airstrikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles — as well as Hezbollah positions, but it rarely confirms such operations.

China may grant Israel special economic waiver

BEIJING — China appears willing to approve Israel’s request to be exempt from a new Chinese policy barring investments in foreign countries, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday.

In a bid to boost its domestic economy, Beijing in January decided to restrict Chinese capital spent abroad, causing much anguish among businessman worldwide.

But on Tuesday, Netanyahu asked Chinese President Xi Jingping to make an exception for Israel, he told reporters, hours after their meeting at Diaoyutai State Guest House.

“I asked for an exemption on the general restrictions. I said that Israel’s a special case. It’s a technology powerhouse that has no market,” Netanyahu said. “It has significance for technology but it doesn’t have any significance in terms of volume on markets or currencies, or anything. Israel is very big in technology but small in market weight.”

Netanyahu told Xi that China is interested in Israeli technology while Israel is interested in Chinese capital. But Israel’s much-lauded innovation needs more cash, and therefore Beijing should consider not applying its new restrictions on Israeli companies.

“He said he was willing to do it,” Netanyahu said. However, the two leaders did not discuss details of the arrangements.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks with China's Premier Li Keqiang (L) during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 20, 2017. (AFP Photo/Wang Zhao)

Netanyahu told Xi that the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang had asked him on Wednesday to reduce regulatory burdens so that Israeli technology would reach the Chinese market more easily.

If you want our products, let us have your capital, Netanyahu argued during his Tuesday meeting with the Chinese president. “It’s called reciprocity,” Netanyahu said.

Currently, one-third of foreign investment in Israel comes from China, according to Netanyahu.

“Israel’s start-up/high-tech community is always thirsty for new capital,” said Eli Groner, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office and the co-head of the Israel-China economic task force.

“The recent Chinese decision caused concern within our hi-tech community that the Chinese capital that has been flowing into Israel over the last few years would come to sudden stop. We are encouraged that the prime minister’s involvement will help unlock this potentially significant flow of capital,” he told The Times of Israel.

Earlier on Tuesday, Xi announced the establishment of a “Comprehensive Innovation Partnership” with Israel, which Netanyahu hailed as “a tremendously important decision.”

“We have always believed… that Israel can be a partner, a junior partner, but a perfect partner for China in the development of a variety of technologies that change the way we live, how long we live, how healthy we live, the water we drink, the food we eat, the milk that we drink – in every area,” he told Xi at the beginning of their meeting.

Later, the prime minister told Israeli reporters that Xi promised to issue a policy directive to all relevant authorities asking them to advance the technological cooperation with Israel.

Last year, China formed an “Innovative Strategic Partnership” with Switzerland, but no other country in the world has the status of a “Comprehensive Innovation Partnership” with the Asian giant, Netanyahu said.