(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met today (Monday), 15 November 2004, with US Senator (R-KY) Mitch McConnell (who currently serves as the Senate Majority Whip and Chairman of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee). Sen. McConnell arrived in Israel on an AIPAC-sponsored visit in order to receive an honorary doctorate from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.

Prime Minister Sharon thanked Sen. McConnell for his friendship toward Israel and his actions to advance the issue of foreign aid to Israel, including the guarantees. The Prime Minister congratulated his guest on the Republican victory in the recent US elections and suggested that the latter’ s job as Senate Majority Whip might now be a little easier.

Prime Minister Sharon briefed Sen. McConnell on developments in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and on the progress of the Disengagement Plan. The Prime Minister reminded his guest that shortly before their meeting, the Knesset Finance Committee had approved advances to voluntary evacuees, which should make implementing the Plan much easier.

Prime Minister Sharon said, “Israel will continue to implement the Disengagement Plan according to the set timetable. The plan was approved by the Cabinet and the Knesset; its implementation is important. The Disengagement Plan does not contravene the Roadmap, to which we are committed; disengagement has the potential of returning to implementing the Roadmap, as soon as a new [Palestinian] leadership arises that will fight terrorism and dismantle its infrastructures, and work towards advancing comprehensive government reforms. If a responsible PA leadership arises that will act correctly and implement its commitments, we will be ready to coordinate with it on various issues, especially security affairs and civilian economic issues that relate to the Disengagement Plan. This is good for both Israel and the Palestinians. At the same time, Israel will continue to build the fence, which is a very important counter-terrorist tool; in areas where the fence has been built, there has been a significant decline in terrorism.”

Prime Minister Sharon said that it is important to enable the Palestinians to hold elections and added that Israel would help them as much as possible. The Prime Minister said that Israel will apparently enable eastern Jerusalem Arabs to participate in the elections; however, a final decision will be made only after a proper discussion has been held.

Prime Minister Sharon emphasized that according to his agreement with US President George Bush, there will be no other diplomatic plan apart from the Roadmap.

The two men discussed the Iraqi, Syrian, Hezbollah and Iranian issues. Regarding the latter, Prime Minister Sharon said, “Iran with nuclear weapons would be a major danger to the world, not just to Israel.”

The two men also discussed the issue of the scope of bilateral trade.  Prime Minister Sharon said that Israel would consider steps that would lead to increased imports from the US.

During his visit, Sen. McConnell flew over the security fence in a helicopter. He also met with Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Labor Party Chairman MK Shimon Peres, IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon, ISA Director Avi Dichter and Mossad Director Meir Dagan.