Hagel to Travel to Israel, Discuss Iran and Syria
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will fly to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel next week for talks that are expected to focus on Iran's nuclear program and Syria's civil war, officials said Friday, according to AFP.
"This trip will be the secretary's third to the Middle East in just over a year, and it will advance America's regional strategy in that region," Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby was quoted as having told a news conference.
The tour was part of "our effort to work in a coordinated manner with allies and partners across the region to address common security challenges," Kirby added.
U.S. officials have struggled to reassure Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, over an interim nuclear deal with Iran that the Saudis worry will embolden Tehran. The Gulf governments have also been dissatisfied with Washington's cautious approach to arming rebel forces in Syria.
In Saudi Arabia, Hagel was due to meet with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) defense ministers, a session he proposed during his visit to the region in December, Kirby said.
The meeting will offer a chance for Hagel "to underscore U.S. security commitments in the Middle East and to reinforce the United States' unstinting policy of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and further destabilizing the region," Kirby said, according to AFP.
From Saudi Arabia, Hagel will travel to Jordan, where he will meet his counterpart there to discuss the raging civil war in neighboring Syria.
"This visit will highlight the U.S. commitment to the defense of Jordan, where more than 1,000 US personnel are on the ground working closely with Jordanian defense authorities," Kirby was quoted as having said.
Hagel will wrap up his regional tour in Israel, where he is due to meet President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.
In Israel, Hagel planned to discuss efforts to bolster Israel's rocket and missile defenses, Kirby said.
Hagel’s visit will take place a week after President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, visited Israel.
Rice assured Israel at high-level bilateral talks on Thursday that Washington remained determined to stop Iran developing nuclear arms.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)