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Israeli Foreign Minister Heads to US - 2004-03-18

Israel's foreign minister left Thursday for the United States, where he will hold talks with senior U.S. and U.N. officials on Israel's unilateral disengagement plans. His trip is also meant to set the stage for a future meeting between President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Israeli Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom's first stop will be New York where he will brief U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Israel's plan to leave the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

He will then travel to California for talks with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger before flying to Washington, the main focus of his visit.

Mr. Shalom is to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

His main aim will be to give the Bush administration more details about Israel's proposed unilateral moves, in the event that peace talks with the Palestinians under the road map to peace plan remain stalled.

Those proposals include Israeli withdrawal from most, if not all, of the Gaza Strip, the scene of violence in recent days.

At least four Palestinians were killed after Israel mounted a series of raids against Palestinian militants in Gaza this week.

The operations were in response to a double suicide bombing over the weekend against the port of Ashdod.

Mr. Shalom defended the raids shortly before departing for the United States.

"So while the Palestinian Authority is not doing anything to stop this terrorism and violence, they are not doing anything to dismantle the infrastructure of the terrorist organizations, we should do it instead of them, in order to protect our people," he said. "So everything we are doing in Gaza is to prevent the coming attacks that they [Palestinian armed groups] are planning to carry out [against Israelis]."

Mr. Shalom is expected to deliver a similar message in Washington.

His visit is meant to lay the groundwork for a future meeting at the White House between President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.