Britain tells Israel it will amend war crimes law

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Foreign Secretary William Hague pledged on Thursday that Britain would act fast to amend a law that puts visiting Israeli officials at risk of arrest for alleged war crimes, an embassy official said.

Britain's top diplomat, who is visiting Israel, made the remarks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during "a very productive meeting" that lasted for more than an hour, the British embassy spokesperson told AFP.

"Hague reiterated the government's firm commitment to move as fast as it can on this matter," the official added.

On Wednesday, the embassy said a draft amendment to the law would be put before parliament "in the coming weeks."

"The British government understands that we have a real problem and we are dealing with it," spokeswoman Karen Kaufman told AFP, saying it would take "several months" before any amendment was passed.

"We will present a draft (amendment) in the coming weeks with the goal of passing it in this current sitting of parliament."

Israel has postponed all strategic dialogue with Britain in protest at its law on "universal jurisdiction" which empowers courts to issue warrants against persons accused of war crimes, including visiting foreign politicians.

The strategic dialogue focuses on defence and security issues and generally takes place annually.

Hague and Netanyahu also discussed Iran's nuclear programme, the spokesperson said, while the prime minister's office said they also talked about prospects for renewing stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

"The two... discussed a broad range of common issues, including the efforts to advance the diplomatic process in the region," it said in a statement.

"Israel and Great Britain maintain very close ties on strategic issues, especially Iran. It was agreed that another official meeting will be held soon in Israel."

Earlier, Hague met one-on-one with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak.

The contents of their meeting were not disclosed, but Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, which on Wednesday published an interview with Hague, said he would "take advantage of his visit to Israel to participate in a secret and closed discussion on Iran."

Israel, the United States and other Western countries believe Tehran's nuclear programme is aimed at building an atomic bomb. Iran denies the allegations, saying its programme is for civil energy purposes only.

The Jewish state, believed to have the Middle East's sole but undeclared nuclear arsenal, has refused to rule out an attack on arch-foe Iran to prevent it going nuclear.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz this week reported Hague would hold in-depth talks with Israeli officials to assess the efficacy of international sanctions against Tehran.

The talks, it said, were at Hague's request and would be attended by Meir Dagan, head of the Mossad spy agency, Shaul Horev, who runs Israel's Atomic Energy Commission, and Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor.

© 2010 AFP

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