Israel’s Barak Says Panetta Meeting Was ‘Important, Useful’

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said his meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today to discuss Iran, Syria and changes across the Middle East was “important and useful.”

Barak left Washington and boarded a flight back to Israel after meeting with Panetta, Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon during a two-day visit to the U.S., his office said in an e-mailed statement from Tel Aviv. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet President Barack Obama at the White House March 5.

Barak described the meeting with Panetta as “long,” indicating “the close security ties between the U.S. and Israel.” He called the talks, which were also attended by General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “important and useful.”

Tensions have increased between the U.S. and Israel over how to deal with Iran, as one U.S. official after another has called for additional time to let new, more severe sanctions have an impact. Israeli leaders have warned publicly that time is running out for a military strike that could stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today that pressuring Iran with sanctions is preferable to military action. Clinton responded to a question about the possibility that Israel might launch a military strike against Iran.

Focus on Sanctions

“Let’s focus on economic sanctions that we have the world behind right now,” Clinton said during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the State Department’s budget. “We believe we’re making progress on the sanctions front.”

“There is certainly a lot more we can do,” Clinton said.

The meeting with Barak was Panetta’s fourth since he took the Cabinet post in July, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said in an e-mailed statement. The frequent encounters have enabled Panetta “to coordinate very closely with the Israelis on security issues, and we will continue to do so,” he said.

While the U.S., Israel and allies have said Iran may be laying the groundwork to build a nuclear weapon, Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes.

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