Hagel to Barak: I hope to visit Israel soon

Hagel is working to ensure there is no interruption of funding for Iron Dome, Arrow, David's Sling rocket, says US official.

March 6, 2013 00:51
3 minute read.
Defense Minister Barak embraces US counterpart Hagel , March 5, 2013

Defense Minister Barak embraces US counterpart Hagel 370. (photo credit: Courtesy Defense Ministry )


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WASHINGTON – Newly installed US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel hopes to soon visit Israel, he told Defense Minister Ehud Barak in a meeting Tuesday at the Pentagon.

Barak was the first foreign defense minister to be received by Hagel, who faced an extended confirmation fight over his past statements on Iran, Hamas, Israel and the “Jewish lobby,” many of which he renounced during his Senate hearing.

Hagel received Barak with an honor cordon and greeted him with a salute, which the defense minister returned with a hug. Barak, who praised Hagel when he spoke Sunday at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual conference, the official reason for his US visit, delivered a similar message during their meeting.

According to a statement by Israeli officials, Barak wished Hagel success in his new role, adding that he was sure he would continue to serve the American people as he has done throughout his entire public life.

A statement put out by Pentagon press secretary George Little on Tuesday noted that Hagel thanked Barak for his words at AIPAC and said Hagel himself had spoken to Barak of their “outstanding working relationship” dating back more than a decade to the defense minister’s term as prime minister.

Little also said that “Secretary Hagel expressed a desire to visit Israel soon and Minister Barak stated that Israel looks forward to hosting him in the near future.”

The meeting primarily focused on Iran, Syria and American assistance to Israel’s missile defense system at a time when the Pentagon is facing massive budget cuts.

“Secretary Hagel expressed his strong commitment to Israel’s security, including maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge and continued US support for missile and rocket defense systems in spite of fiscal constraints,” Little’s statement read.

On Iran, Hagel told Barak that “all options remain on the table,” but that there is still – limited – time for diplomacy to work.

Elsewhere in Washington, AIPAC activists concluded their conference Tuesday morning before heading to Capitol Hill to lobby their members of Congress on the group’s legislative priorities.

AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr announced Monday night at the AIPAC gala that it was the first year activists would meet with all 100 senators and 435 members of the US House of Representatives.

The bills they asked for support on included new Iran sanctions measures, backing for Israel as it determines how to handle the Iran challenge and designating Israel a “major strategic ally,” a unique label that would apply to Israel alone among foreign nations.

Key leaders of the House and Senate addressed the estimated 13,000 AIPAC conference-goers Monday and Tuesday to encourage them with their efforts. They also emphasized their support for Israel and warned against the dangers posed by Iran.

“There can never be any daylight between the United States and Israel – not ever, but certainly not when it comes to Iran’s drive to achieve nuclear weapons capability,” Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Tuesday.

As world powers undertake negotiations with Iran, Menendez said the international community must adopt the unified message towards Tehran that “we will never accept a nuclear Iran and you cannot outwait us.”

On Monday night, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told AIPAC, “We need to be clear-eyed that the nuclear talks with Iran cannot be unending, and that they may fail.”

He stressed, “We need to recognize that military action against Iran may become necessary to protect America, Israel and our allies.”

Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.
During the talks, Barak stressed the importance of continuing to develop the special relations between the Israeli defense community and the Pentagon.

Barak wished Hagel success in his new role, adding that he was sure he would continue to serve the American people as he has done throughout his entire public life.

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