Biden to meet Netanyahu during Sharon funeral visit
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will meet Israel's prime minister and president while in Israel for ex-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's funeral, Biden's office said.
His meetings with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres are intended to advance U.S. Middle East peace efforts and ease Israeli concerns about international diplomacy intended to end Iran's atomic weapons threat, officials said.
Biden, in his second visit to Israel as vice president, is leading the official U.S. delegation, which also includes U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro; Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.; Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and former Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, the White House said.
Biden is scheduled to deliver remarks at the state funeral at the Israeli Knesset, or Parliament, at 9:30 a.m. (2:30 a.m. EST) and attend Sharon's military burial service at his desert sheep ranch in southern Israel near Sderot, less than a mile from the Palestinian city of Gaza, at 2 p.m.
Sharon -- a former major general, as well as defense minister and foreign minister -- will be buried next to his second wife, Lily, Israeli officials said.
Biden is scheduled to return to the United States Monday evening.
Sharon, 85, died Saturday after eight years in a coma caused by a severe stroke in 2006 from which he never recovered.
He is widely seen as one of the most influential figures in Israeli history.
Biden's meetings with Netanyahu and Peres follow U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's sometimes-strained Middle East shuttle diplomacy seeking to revitalize talks between Israelis and Palestinians toward reaching a two-state solution that envisages an independent Palestine alongside Israel.
"Anytime that you have a leader from the United States as significant as Vice President Biden sitting down with the prime minister of Israel, which Vice President Biden will be doing while we're here, there's an opportunity for progress," Wasserman Schultz told reporters traveling with the delegation on Biden's plane from Washington.
"Every time there is an opportunity for progress, for the United States to be in a position to help Israel in the cause of crafting and finalizing a two-state solution, we take that opportunity," she said in remarks quoted by the Los Angeles Times.
Also traveling with the delegation are Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan and State Department special Middle East peace envoy Maher Bitar.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is special envoy for the so-called Middle East Quartet involved in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, is also scheduled to attend Sharon's funeral.
The quartet includes the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.
There were no reports of whether Blair would also meet with Netanyahu, Peres or any other Israeli officials.
Additional current and former government officials scheduled to be at the funeral include the Austrian president and foreign minister, the Czech prime minister and defense minister, the foreign ministers of Germany and Australia, the Greek and Cypriot defense ministers, the chairman of Russia's State Duma, or lower legislative chamber, and ministers and deputy ministers from Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Romania and Singapore.