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Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin meets with PM Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel

By
Don Johnson
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu give a joint news conference on Monday after a meeting in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by Menahem Kahana/UPI/Pool
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu give a joint news conference on Monday after a meeting in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by Menahem Kahana/UPI/Pool | License Photo

April 12 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit on Monday, part of a two-day swing through the Middle Eastern nation.

During his visit, he tweeted that the United States is committed to close consultations with Israel concerning "threats posed by Iran" and Israeli security.

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U.S. President Joe Biden's Pentagon chief did not mention Iran or its nuclear program during the visit, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Austin is the first member of Biden's Cabinet to visit Israel since the United States began indirect negotiations last week to rejoin the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

RELATED Iran accuses Israel of causing nuclear site blackout

After their meeting Monday, Netanyahu and Austin gave a joint press briefing during which Netanyahu warned that Iran is keeping up efforts to produce nuclear weapons.

"We're not just allies, we're family. We call that 'mishpacha,'" Netanyahu said. "There is so much truth in that statement that our peoples instinctively understand."

Netanyahu added that there's no threat in the Middle East more dangerous or more pressing than that posed by a "fanatical regime in Iran."

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Austin said the United States' strong ties to Israel are "central to regional security in the Middle East" and that he's lobbied for a meeting with Israeli leaders in the early days of the Biden administration.

Israel opposes the Iran nuclear deal and supported the U.S. withdrawal under former President Donald Trump. Biden has said he plans to rejoin the accord, which offers sanctions relief in exchange for limiting Tehran's nuclear activities to the laboratory.

Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz, who met with Austin on Sunday, said Israel will cooperate with the United States on Iran.

RELATED Netanyahu: Israel will not be bound by Iran nuclear deal

Netanyahu warned last week that Israel will not be bound by any deal world powers make with Iran if it leads to Tehran securing nuclear weapons.

Earlier Monday, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif accused Israel of being responsible for causing a blackout Sunday at the Natanz nuclear facility in central Iran and vowed that Tehran will take retaliatory measures.

Iranian officials said an electrical circuit issue caused the power outage. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, called it an act of "nuclear terrorism."

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After leaving Israel, Lloyd is scheduled to travel to Germany and then Belgium for meetings with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. His trip ends with a visit in Britain later this week.

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