Last updated: 15 April, 2012

Israeli defence minister heads to Colombia and US

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday left for a five-day working visit to Colombia and the United States where he was to hold talks with top officials, his office said.

His first stop will be in Bogota to meet Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, his counterpart Juan Carlos Pinzon and Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, Barak’s office said.

He will also meet Colombia’s military chief-of-staff and other senior administration officials, the statement said, without indicating what would be discussed.

Barak will then travel to Washington for talks with US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday, after which he would return immediately to Israel.

Last October, Colombia’s Holguin paid a surprise visit to the region to try to encourage Israel and the Palestinians to return to direct talks, which broke down just weeks after they began in September 2010.

Holguin, who met both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, was sent to the region by Santos, whose efforts at mediation began earlier that month during a visit by the Palestinian leader.

Abbas had been hoping to secure Colombian backing for a Palestinian bid to secure full state membership at the United Nations.

But Colombia, which is one of the 10 non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, opposes the bid, backing the position of both Israel and the United States which say a Palestinian state can emerge only through bilateral negotiations and not through a UN vote.