Israeli, US defense chiefs to meet

Published: Monday July 28, 2008

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak meets with US Defense Secretary Robert Gates Monday for talks that an Israeli adviser said would focus on the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman confirmed that Gates and Barak would meet but would say only that it was for "standard defense consultative discussions."

The meeting comes amid a continuing diplomatic impasse with Iran over its nuclear programme and just two days after Tehran announced that its uranium enrichment facility in Natanz has now expanded to 6,000 centrifuges.

In an interview with Israeli public radio, Amos Gilad, a senior adviser to Barak, said the defense minister would "discuss the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear programme."

"This is a very important visit. Israel cannot tolerate living under an Iranian nuclear threat," Gilad said. "For the moment our priority is the diplomatic track, but Israel has to be prepared to use all options."

Barak also was expected to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and members of Congress, according to Israeli officials.

Barak's visit to the Pentagon is to be held without the usual honor cordon or other trappings of a typical ministerial visit to the Pentagon.

"He's come here several times, and we haven't done honor cordons before. He has a longstanding relationship with the secretary," Whitman said of Barak.

In another low-profile visit, the chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, met Friday at the Pentagon with Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mullen's spokesman said they had "cordial and candid" discussions of issues of mutual concern, which included a wide array of security issues in the Middle East.