Panetta meets Israeli Prez on Iran, Syria



Panetta meets Israeli Prez on Iran, Syria Washington: US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has met with visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres to discuss security issues of mutual concern and strong defense ties between the two close allies.

"They consulted on the many areas of cooperation and the common challenges faced by the United States and Israel in the Middle East, to include the ongoing violence in Syria, Iran's nuclear ambitions, the Middle East Peace Process, and U.S. commitment to preserving Israel's Qualitative Military Edge," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement.

Panetta also congratulated Peres on being awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, which will be awarded by U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday, the statement added.

No further details on the meeting was released, but Iran's nuclear program was expected to top the agenda of their talks. The two countries have been in close consultation over the issue of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Israel, which considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be an existential threat, has threatened to strike Iran to stop its nuclear program, while the Obama administration insists that there is still a chance of resolving the crisis through diplomacy and economic sanctions.

Little results have been achieved so far after two rounds of talks held in Turkey in April and in Iraq in May.

On the latest spate of violence in neighboring Syria that has fueled worries of a civil war, Israel has broken its silence recently by joining the U.S.-led West in calling for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Speaking to Israel Radio on Sunday, Peres also urged world powers to intervene in the Syrian situation, noting that the International community was not doing enough to end the bloodletting.

It also remained unknown if Peres and Panetta discussed the issue of releasing Jonathan Pollard, the Israeli spy held by the U.S. since 1987.

Pollard, a former U.S. intelligence analyst, was arrested by the U.S. in 1985 and sentenced to life in 1987, after being convicted of passing classified information on secret U.S. intelligence activities in Arab countries to Israel.

Israel, which granted Pollard Israeli citizenship in 1995 and officially recognized him as a spy in 1998, has been strongly lobbying Washington to release Pollard, citing the punishment was too harsh because Israel and the U.S. are two close allies.

Peres, speaking to reporters upon arriving in Washington on Monday, said he would talk about Pollard's case with Obama when they meet on Wednesday.

"I'll speak one-on-one with the president about Pollard ... I intend on focusing on the humanitarian aspect," Peres said, referring to the fact that Pollard is in poor physical condition.

Before Peres' departure, about 70,000 Israelis, including former president Yitzhak Navon and several Nobel Prize winners, signed a petition to urge the president to persuade his U.S. counterpart to release Pollard.

ANI