Defense Sec. Austin pledges ‘enduring’ Israel commitment amid Iran tensions
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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is reiterating the United States’ “enduring and ironclad” commitment to Israel as tensions between the Jewish nation and Iran continue to escalate.
Austin made the comments following his meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv on Sunday, steering clear of any mention of Iran.
“Our commitment to Israel is enduring and ironclad,” Austin told reporters.
“We addressed a broad range of defense issues, to include Israel’s long-term planning for defense acquisitions, and regional security challenges,” he continued, going on to mention “US support for efforts to normalize relations between Israel and Arab and Muslim majority nations.”
Austin’s two-day trip marks the first visit by a Biden administration official to Israel since the 46th US commander-in-chief took office.
Gantz, meanwhile, brought up Iran directly while pledging support to American forces in any way needed.
“The Tehran of today presents a strategic threat to international security, the entire Middle East and to the state of Israel. We will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and of the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the state of Israel,” the defense minister said.
In addition to Gantz, Austin also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who remains a vocal opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, something the US is working on re-entering under Biden.
Iran on Monday blamed Israel for knocking out power to its Natanz underground nuclear facility, saying the sabotage damaged its centrifuges and vowing to retaliate as tensions between the two longtime foes threaten to jeopardize talks with the Biden administration to re-enter the 2015 nuclear accord.
State-run media in Iran claimed the person who caused the blackout at the key nuclear site that is used to enrich uranium has been identified and “necessary measures are being taken to arrest this person.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed Israel but added that the event would not jeopardize nuclear talks.
“The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions. … We will not fall into their trap. ... We will not allow this act of sabotage to affect the nuclear talks,” Zarif said, state-run media reported.
“But we will take our revenge against the Zionists,” he continued.
Israel has not officially claimed responsibility, but Israeli media reported that the country’s Mossad spy unit had carried out a cyberattack on an Iranian nuclear facility.
Last week, the US indirectly engaged in nuclear talks with Tehran, kicking off the American-backed effort to re-join the Iran deal.
Within two days of negotiations, the State Department said the US was prepared to lift sanctions on Tehran that were “inconsistent” with the 2015 nuclear agreement.
For their part, the Iranians expressed considerable satisfaction after Tuesday and Wednesday’s talks.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani left Wednesday’s meetings calling initial discussions a “success” that opened a “new chapter” to save the pact.
The Obama administration brokered the controversial JCPOA in 2015. The accord reduced sanctions against Iran in exchange for the country reducing its stockpile of enriched uranium needed to fuel nuclear weapons.
It also capped the fissile purity at which Tehran could refine uranium at 3.67 percent.
The Trump administration withdrew from the pact in 2018, with the then-commander-in-chief arguing that “America will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail.”
Iran began breaching the deal shortly after, as tensions ratcheted up between the US and Tehran.
President Biden pledged he would re-enter the 2015 deal “as a starting point for follow-on negotiations,” adding that he would only support doing so if Iran pledged to follow strict compliance measures.
Following Biden’s election in November, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, however, that his country would fully implement the terms of the Obama-era agreement if Biden lifted the Trump-era sanctions, arguing it could be done with “three executive orders.”
The administration has refused, and Tehran has continued to not abide by the agreement.
With Post Wires
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