Sec. Gates to meet with Israeli counterpart

JERUSALEM — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is meeting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

The meeting is the first in-person huddle between top officials in both governments since pro-democracy protests in Egypt erupted about three weeks ago.

Mark Regev, a senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, confirmed Wednesday  that Barak traveled to Washington.

The Israeli government has expressed solidarity with the democratic aspirations of the protesters, who have demanded the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

But Israeli officials have strongly cautioned that a quick transition could lead to a radical Islamic government taking power in a strategically important nation for Israeli security interests.

Egypt was the first Arab nation to sign a peace deal with Israel when it agreed to the Camp David accords in 1979.

Meanwhile, the United States has taken a tough stance with the Egyptian government with regard to its response to the protests.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Tuesday called comments made by Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman that his country is not ready for democracy "unhelpful."

Barak was scheduled to deliver a keynote address at the Herzliya Conference, a highly regarded national security and policy gathering near Tel Aviv, on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Israel time.