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Iran tops agenda as Pentagon chief visits Israel

02 august 2012, 12:56
0
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. ©AFP
US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. ©AFP
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta was on Wednesday to hold top-level talks in Israel expected to focus on ways of resolving the international standoff over Iran's disputed nuclear programme, AFP reports.

As the Pentagon chief touched down in Tel Aviv late on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave an interview in which he said he had not yet decided on whether to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran.

But at the same time, he warned that Israel would not rely on anyone else to guarantee its security -- not even Washington.

Speaking in Cairo before taking off for Tel Aviv, Panetta ruled out discussions about "potential attack plans" against Iran's nuclear programme, which Israel and much of the West believes is a bid to develop a bomb.

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful, but Israel says a nuclear Iran would pose an existential threat to the Jewish state, and has refused to rule out a pre-emptive military strike on Tehran's facilities.

"I think it's the wrong characterisation to say that we're going to be discussing potential attack plans," Panetta told reporters in Cairo. "What we are discussing are various contingencies on how we would respond."

Washington, he said, was continuing to "work on a number of options in that area." He did not give further details.

On Wednesday morning, Panetta met Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv with the two expected to later visit a battery of the Iron Dome missile defence system in a nearby town.

He was then expected to head to Jerusalem for talks with Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

Panetta last visited Israel in October when he held talks with Netanyahu and Barak, and also with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

His visit comes just weeks after a secret visit by US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, who reportedly briefed Netanyahu on US contingency plans for a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, Haaretz newspaper reported earlier this week.

Israeli officials denied the report.

Shortly after Panetta's arrival, Netanyahu said he had not yet decided whether Israel would strike Iran.

"I have not taken a decision," he told Israel's private Channel 2 television.

"Israel's fate depends solely on us and no other country, however friendly," he said, in reference to the United States.

Panetta's arrival also coincided with Washington's imposition of fresh economic sanctions on Iran's oil sector.

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