U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will meet Egypt's new President Mohammed Morsi next week and hold talks with the country's top general during a trip to the Middle East and North Africa, the Pentagon said on Thursday.
Reuters reported that in addition to Egypt, Panetta will also travel to Israel, Jordan and Tunisia next week.
Panetta's trip to Egypt comes on the heels of a mid-July visit there by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also met Morsi and Egypt's top general, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi. Clinton received a hostile reception during a visit to Alexandria, where demonstrators pelted her motorcade with tomatoes.
Reuters reported that top on the agenda during Panetta’s visit will be Egypt's turbulent democratic transition, which has seen the military wrestling for influence with the new president.
“The secretary is very much looking forward to meeting with senior Egyptian officials and to encourage them to continue the political transition that's taking place,” Pentagon spokesman George Little was quoted as having said. “I wouldn't want to get too far ahead of the discussions, since they're taking place next week.”
Little added that in Israel and Jordan, Panetta will “engage close allies who share our concerns about Syria and Iran.”
Clinton visited Israel on July 16, saying the two countries were “on the same page” in their determination to prevent Iran from achieving what the West fears is its goal of building a nuclear bomb.
The United States is reportedly concerned that Israel may launch a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities and has sent several officials to the Jewish State. Before Clinton, President Barack Obama's National Security Advisor Tom Donilon visited Israel secretly and met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and National Security Advisor Gen. Yaakov Amidror.
It was speculated that Donilon's visit reflects heightened U.S. concern that Israel intends to attack Iran sometime during the summer or early autumn. That concern has been heightened by the recent failure of talks between western powers and Iran.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned on Wednesday that Jerusalem is “committed to doing everything it can in order to stop Iran from going nuclear,” adding that Israel would remain responsible for its own security, rather than depending on other states, such as the United States.
“America understands that the government of Israel -- and it alone -- holds the ultimate responsibility of the decisions that affect the security and future of the State of Israel,” said Barak.