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Pentagon chief to pay first visit to Israel

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-04-17 03:26

WASHINGTON - US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Tuesday that he will visit Israel in a few days in the first trip to the Middle East since taking office in February.

"I'm gonna be in Israel in a few days. Our interests are very clear and common ... and I think the Israelis know that and we know that," Hagel told a US House Appropriations Defense subcommittee hearing, without disclosing further details of the trip.

Dealing with Iran's nuclear crisis is expected to top the agenda of Hagel's first visit to Israel, the staunchest US ally in Middle East.

Hagel, who was criticized for his shaky stance toward Israel during his nomination process, said that the military relationship between the two countries "is as close as it's ever been, whether it's missile defense, Iron Dome (anti-missile systems), or in the rocket defense."

When asked whether the US would provide aid even if Israel launches unilateral strike against Iran to rid it of its nuclear program, Hagel said it is a policy issue that President Barack Obama would have to decide.

But he stressed that the US military is "able to support whatever policy decisions the president makes."

"We have the military capability, and we have the ability to provide the president with what's required to protect the interests of this country and our allies," Hagel said.

Israel has threatened to attack Iran alone in order to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon, as the Obama administration prefers to resort to diplomacy and crippling sanctions to deter Tehran from crossing the red line.

To ease Israel's concerns about Iranian nuclear threat and coordinate the efforts to exert pressure on Tehran, Obama paid his first visit to Israel in March during which he reaffirmed the US strong commitment to protecting its ally.

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