WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is on a trip to the Middle East with stops in Israel and Jordan.
The secretary will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barack in Jerusalem, Defense officials said. He will then travel to Amman for meetings with King Abdullah and Jordanian ministry of defense officials.
The visits are to further the normal U.S. defense relationships with Israel and Jordan. The secretary has met with Israeli and Jordanian leaders in Washington and wanted to visit them in their capitals. There are no “deliverables” for the visit – no weapons systems sales or grand announcements of strategy. “We’re talking about the threats and challenges that we see in the region,” a senior defense official said speaking on background.
Israel and Jordan may have some requests to make, but that is not the main reason for the trip. “There are a lot of continuing discussions – on missile defense on the Joint Strike Fighter – that I’m sure will come up,” the official said.
“The secretary is going to be in Israel to discuss our bilateral security relationship,” the official said. The secretary and Israeli officials will not specifically be discussing the peace process in the region, but conversations on security and defense will invariably touch on these, the official said.
Iran is a concern to both Israel and Jordan and to the other countries of the region, and it will undoubtedly be a discussion item in both capitals. President Obama has said that Iran’s nuclear program is a principle national security challenge. In meetings with Israeli leaders, Obama said the United States shares Israel’s and Jordan’s concern with the Iranian nuclear threat to regional stability.
The Administration policy of Iran has been clear. First, the Iranian nuclear program presents a threat to regional stability. The administration has made an unconditional offer of discussions with the Iranians and “that offer has been on the table for months,” the official said. “The president has been pretty clear that they have until the latter part of September to respond to our overtures and they have until the end of the year to show progress on that.”
U.S. officials have asked the Israelis to be patient with Iran and allow diplomacy to work, the official said.
The visit to Jordan is largely to thank King Abdullah for his leadership in the region, the official said. Jordan has taken a great role in training security forces in the region. Jordan is training the Palestinian security forces and has trained Iraqi police and special operations forces.
“Jordan has taken a leadership role in reintegrating Iraq,” the official said. Jordan has a vested interest in a peaceful and secure Iraq and U.S. officials will discuss plans for the peaceful, responsible drawdown of American forces in the country with Jordanian military leaders.