Barak, Panetta Meet at the Pentagon
Defense Minister Ehud Barak held talks on Tuesday with Pentagon chief Leon Panetta that were expected to focus on the conflict in Syria and on Iran's nuclear program, U.S. officials said, according to AFP.
The meeting comes shortly after an alleged Israeli air raid against a Syrian regime target, which renewed debate in Washington over arming Syria's rebels and fresh concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
It was the second time this year that the two defense chiefs, who are both due to step down soon, held talks in Washington.
The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral James "Sandy" Winnefeld, also took part in the talks on Tuesday, officials told AFP.
During his visit, Barak was to meet senior intelligence and administration officials as well. However, defense officials declined to provide any details of the discussions.
A day before Barak's visit, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Iran was now closer to crossing the "red line" after which it could build a nuclear weapon.
“I drew a line at the UN, last time I was there,” Netanyahu told the gathering of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“They haven’t crossed that line, but what they’re doing is to shorten the time that it will take them to cross that line. How do you stop it? Well, you have to put greater pressure on them. You have to upgrade the sanctions. And they have to know that if the sanctions and diplomacy fails, they will face incredible military threat. That’s essential. Nothing else will do the job. And it’s getting closer.”
Iran scorned Netanyahu’s warnings as a "laughing matter" on Tuesday, saying that the "Zionist regime is a great violator and an illegitimate regime" that had "illegally stockpiled nuclear warheads."
Tuesday’s Pentagon meeting also followed an admission from Panetta this week that he and other top officials had favored providing weapons to Syria's opposition forces, but were overruled in a White House debate.
The U.S. administration announced last week that President Barack Obama will make his first-ever visit to Israel as president this spring.
Barak and Panetta’s meeting came as a U.S. Senate committee approved the nomination of ex-Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be Panetta’s replacement.
The full Senate is expected to take up the nomination this week, though Republican critics have threatened to block a vote.
Barak announced his retirement from politics before the elections in Israel last month and will leave his position as Defense Minister as soon as a new government is formed.