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Hagel in Israel to meet with Netanyahu, Yaalon and Peres

(JTA) — U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is in Israel for meetings on the Middle East nation’s missile defense and border security.

Hagel, making his last stop on a weeklong trip to the region, will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, according to the Times of Israel.

The Pentagon said the meetings on Thursday and Friday will concern bolstering Israel’s missile defenses, along with security threats on its Egyptian and Syrian borders.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the visit will concern “our effort to work in a coordinated manner with allies and partners across the region to address common security challenges.”

Before arriving in Israel, Hagel was in Saudi Arabia to attend a meeting between the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council, a consortium of Arab states on the Persian Gulf. He also traveled to Jordan to consult about Eager Lion, an upcoming military exercise.

The GCC, along with Israel, has been wary of ongoing negotiations between Iran and world powers, including the United States, over dismantling Iran’s nuclear program. The sides reached an interim agreement last year to freeze the nuclear program for six months in exchange for the lifting of some international sanctions on Iran. The program is widely believed to be intended to produce a nuclear weapon, despite Iran’s claims that it is for civilian purposes.

The meeting with the GCC aimed “to underscore U.S. security commitments in the Middle East and to reinforce the United States’ unstinting policy of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and further destabilizing the region,” Kirby said.

The United States opposes Iran possessing a nuclear weapon. At a conference of the American Jewish Committee in Washington, D.C., former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was “skeptical” that the sides would reach a satisfactory deal in the negotiations.

“We are arriving at a crucial juncture,” Clinton said, according to the Times of Israel. “The progress of Iran’s nuclear program may be halted, but it is not dismantled and Tehran has not yet lived up to its obligations or the concerns of the international community.”

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