Washington, June 21- Israel’s new Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz told Barack Obama Thursday that the expanded governing coalition he helped engineer could improve prospects for a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
In an unexpected move, Mofaz brought the centrist Israeli party Kadima he leads into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition May 8 as the Israeli electorate was already preparing for general elections in September. The new coalition, one Israel’s largest ever governments, occupies 94 of 120 Knesset seats and obviated the call for early elections.
Mofaz was several minutes into his meeting Thursday with Obama’s National Security Advisor Tom Donilon at the White House when the president decided to join the meeting, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
“The Americans have a strong will to advance the process,” Mofaz told Haaretz following the meeting. “This time there are no preconditions… from my talks with U.S. Secretary of State Clinton and the National Security Adviser, I feel that there is support for talks without preconditions.”
Mofaz served as defense minister and IDF commander in previous governments.
The Kadima power-broker also said U.S. officials assured him that they were committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and that “harsh” sanctions would hit Iran starting next month.
Mofaz, who is spending the week in the U.S., had started his trip saying the ultimate responsibility for stopping Iran rested with America and its allies.
“The use of military power should be the last option, and I believe that this option should be led by the U.S. and the Western countries,” Mofaz said Tuesday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a prominent D.C. think-tank.