Lloyd Austin
Lloyd Austin Reuters

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is expected to travel to Israel next week, Israeli officials told Barak Ravid of Axios on Tuesday.

This will be the first Cabinet-level visit to the Middle East from the Biden administration, which has been shifting attention away from the region and toward China and Russia.

Austin is expected to arrive on Sunday and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

The agenda will include Iran and other regional issues like Syria and Lebanon, Israeli officials told Ravid.

According to the report, Israeli officials also intend to raise US-Israel security understandings, reached in the final weeks of the Trump administration, on maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge in the region. Israel wants to ensure the Biden administration is committed to those understandings.

It is not yet clear whether Austin will make other stops in the Middle East. The Pentagon declined to comment.

Austin’s visit comes as the US seeks to return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Iran has gradually scaled back its compliance with the deal in response to former US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement in May of 2018.

Biden has expressed a desire to return to the deal but has stressed that Iran must resume compliance with it before any negotiations on a US return to the agreement.

On Monday, the United States said it is ready to review key sanctions on Iran if it comes into compliance with the deal.

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