Pentagon chief meets Israel PM to discuss tensions over Iran deal

Israeli leader had urged lawmakers in Washington to reject the hard-won agreement

Afp July 21, 2015
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter ahead of a meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem on July 21, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM: US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday to try to ease tensions over the Iran nuclear deal, as the Israeli leader urged lawmakers in Washington to reject the hard-won agreement.

The two men greeted each other with a long handshake before entering the meeting that lasted nearly two hours, making no comment about the tensions over the nuclear accord that Netanyahu has harshly condemned.

Their meeting came on the final day of Carter's visit to Israel, the first stop on a regional tour aimed at reassuring US allies in the region who have concerns over the Iran deal.

On Monday, Carter met with Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon and signalled the United States was ready to boost military cooperation with the Jewish state.

He also toured the country's northern border with Lebanon for an assessment of the threat Israel says Hezbollah poses.

Iran is accused of supporting militants in the region, including Israeli enemies Hezbollah and Hamas, and Israel argues that the expected lifting of sanctions under the nuclear accord will allow it to boost its help for such groups.

Carter on Monday sought to address Israel's worries that the nuclear deal with its arch-foe Iran meant Washington was shifting its focus in the region, saying Israel remained "the bedrock of American strategy in the Middle East".

Under the July 14 agreement, Iran has agreed to dismantle or mothball much of its nuclear industry in return for an easing and eventual lifting of sanctions.

Read: Iran, big powers clinch landmark nuclear deal

World powers have called it an historic opportunity to set relations with Iran on a new path.

Netanyahu has argued however that it is not enough to keep the Islamic republic from obtaining nuclear weapons that could be used to target Israel.

He has said that military force remains on the table to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, although experts say unilateral strikes by Israel appear highly unlikely for now.

Carter has noted that the deal does not preclude the use of military force to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, although the agreement is designed to resolve the issue diplomatically.

The United States currently grants Israel about $3 billion a year in military aid in addition to spending on other projects, such as the Iron Dome missile defence system. There have been suggestions that the assistance could be increased due to the Iran agreement.

Read: US lawmakers sent Iran deal, triggering 60-day review

The US Congress has 60 days to review the accord and Netanyahu has been urging lawmakers to reject it, including in a series of television interviews with US networks.

He angered President Barack Obama by appearing before Congress in March to denounce the deal being negotiated with Iran.


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