Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority probably will be unaffected by Washington's decision to temporarily relieve US Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, of his duties over the weekend after the State Department revoked his security clearance.
Indyk, a major player on President Clinton's peace team, is under investigation for mishandling classified information over a period of five years, but he is not suspected of espionage or of compromising US intelligence, according to various reports.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak's spokesman, Gadi Baltiansky, characterized the affair as
"an internal American matter that has nothing to do with Israel."
However, Baltiansky said in a statement that, "The prime minister highly appreciates Ambassador Indyk and his contribution to furthering the peace process as well as his activities for strengthening the Israeli-American relationship."
Indyk said in a statement on Friday that he regretted "that my trying to do the best possible job under very difficult conditions has led to the temporary suspension of my security clearances while it is determined whether correct security procedures were followed.
"For over seven years, in the proud service of my country, I have dedicated myself to the promotion of the United States interests in the Middle East," said the London-born and Australian-educated Indyk.
The Ambassador, who is 49-years-old, became a naturalized US citizen in 1993, shortly before President Clinton named him as the National Security Council's expert on the Middle East.
"Jeopardizing the national security interests of the United States is absolutely abhorrent to me, and I would never do anything to compromise those interests," said Indyk.
For the time being, Indyk is not allow to handle classified information, must have an escort to enter the State Department and cannot return to Israel to continue his work as Ambassador. Indyk has been replaced temporarily in Tel Aviv by the Deputy Chief of Mission Paul Simons, who will run the Embassy as Charge d'Affairs.
Indyk is not suspected of passing information to Israel or any other State, and the alleged offenses are said to have occurred prior to his current tour of duty as Israeli Ambassador, which began in January. Indyk, who was Ambassador to Israel from 1995-1997, also served as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs until he swapped positions with Ambassador to Israel Edward Walker in January.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, said that Indyk had "cooperated fully" with the State Department and FBI investigation.
"There is no indication of espionage" and "no indication any intelligence has been compromised," Boucher said in a statement. "This is a question of security procedures that have not been followed."
According to a report in the Washington Post, one part of the investigation concerns a former deputy, who allegedly composed a classified memo on an unclassified laptop computer while traveling in the Middle East.
"Secretary Albright holds Ambassador Indyk in high regard and values his contributions, a view that all of us at the Embassy share," said Larry Schwartz, US Embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv.
"As you know, the Ambassador is currently undergoing a security investigation in Washington that the State Department will conclude as soon as possible, but we cannot offer any additional comments on the substance of the investigation," Schwartz said in a statement.
Schwartz added that the Embassy would commit itself to the "central task of strengthening US-Israeli relationships across a wide range of issues that bind our two peoples and nations."
President Clinton said he did not believe that the investigation would harm efforts aimed at securing Middle East peace.
Widespread reports in the Israeli media on Sunday, quoting Israeli sources, also agreed that Indyk's temporary removal would not have a serious impact on Israeli-PA negotiations.
The investigation comes at a time of heightened alert among federal agencies over lax security.
Former Central Intelligence Agency Director John M Deutch is under investigation by the Justice Department for computer security violations.
Last spring, a listening device was found in Albright's conference room and traced to a Russian diplomat, and a State Department laptop computer with top secret information on arms proliferation mysteriously disappeared.
In 1999, Wen Lee Ho, a scientist from the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico was charged with 59 counts of mishandling nuclear secrets. He eventually pled guilty to one felony charge of transferring nuclear data from the lab's security computer to another medium. He was freed after nine prior months of confinement.