Hagel reassures Barak on missile defense

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reassured Ehud Barak, his Israeli counterpart, that he would continue to advocate for Israel’s missile defense programs despite looming budget cuts.

"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," the Pentagon said in a statement after the two defense chiefs met Tuesday. It was Hagel’s first meeting in his new post with a foreign counterpart.

Barak and Hagel also discussed keeping Syrian weapons from falling into terrorist hands as a result of turmoil in that country, and efforts to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the statement said.

On Iran, it said, Hagel "stated that the United States continues to believe there is still time to address this issue through diplomacy, but that window is closing."

Hagel also thanked Barak for his "kind words" at the policy conference this week of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

In his own message, Barak reiterated his respect for Hagel’s service as a soldier and then as a U.S. senator from Nebraska.

Hagel had come under fire from Republicans during his confirmation process for past statements attacking what he called the "Jewish lobby," as well as for his past skepticism of Iran sanctions and the efficacy of a strike on Iran to keep it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

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