Wednesday Mar 06, 201301:10 PM GMT
Chuck Hagel reassures Israel on military aid
Wed Mar 6, 2013 11:16AM
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U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R) greets Israel's Minister of Military Affairs Ehud Barak at the Pentagon on March 5, 2013.

 

The Pentagon's new chief held talks with Israeli Minister for Military Affairs Ehud Barak, on Tuesday and pledged to ensure U.S. budget cuts have no effect on funding for military assistance to Israel, officials said.

 

In his first meeting with a foreign counterpart as the newly minted U.S. defense secretary, Chuck Hagel chose to host Barak after facing allegations from some senators that he was too tough on Israel and naive in his views on Iran.

 

Hagel met Barak for two hours, including an hour of one-on-one discussions, officials said. For the first half of the meeting, Hagel and Barak were joined by the U.S. military's top officer, General Martin Dempsey and the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

 

With automatic U.S. budget cuts going into effect over the weekend, Hagel sought to reassure Barak that he would work to prevent disruption to Washington's funding for rocket and missile programs for Israel.

 

"Secretary Hagel expressed his strong commitment to Israel's security, including maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge and continued U.S. support for missile and rocket defense systems in spite of fiscal constraints," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement.

 

Hagel "is committed to working with members of Congress to ensure that there is no interruption of funding for Iron Dome, Arrow, and David's Sling rocket and missile systems, despite the fiscal uncertainty due to congressional inaction" on the automatic budget cuts and a proposed defense budget, said a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

 

Hagel greeted Barak on the steps of the Pentagon entrance before an honor guard shortly after 10 am local time (1500 GMT), giving the Israeli minister an informal salute.

 

The two embraced and then walked into the building for discussions that focused on Iran's nuclear energy program and Syria's unrest, officials said. AFP

 

FACTS & FIGURES

 

Chuck Hagel, an ex-senator from Nebraska and Vietnam veteran, came under fierce criticism from his Republican former colleagues during his nomination process, with lawmakers painting him as hostile to Israel and unwilling to impose some sanctions on Iran. AFP

 

However, in his first interview after being nominated as the next U.S. secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel told his hometown paper, the Lincoln Journal Star in Nebraska that he will show an “unequivocal, total support for Israel.” He said critics have "completely distorted" his record.

 

Many observers who expected Hagel, who had a reputation for issuing harsh criticisms of Israel, to differentiate the U.S. relationship with Israel at least slightly, have thus far been disappointed by his close adherence to the Obama administration’s approach over the last four years. Antiwar

 

Hagel rankled many with comments he made in a 2006 interview with former State Department Mideast peace negotiator Aaron David Miller in which he said that the “Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people" in Congress, in a reference to AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups. LA Times

 

AIPAC lobbyists guarantee billions of dollars in military aid for Israel each year. AlterNet

 

Israel receives about $3 billion from the U.S. in direct foreign assistance each year, which is roughly one-fifth of America's foreign aid budget. ifamericansknew.org

 

AHT/ARA

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