US Defence Secretary in Israel for high-level talks

Tel Aviv: US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin ON Sunday began talks with Israeli leaders, in the first visit by a member of new US President Joe Biden’s Cabinet.

Austin was received with military honours before meeting his counterpart Benny Gantz, DPA news agency reported.

The Israeli minister is expected to raise the recent negotiations between world powers and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear programme, saying Israel hoped for a better deal to be agreed in the future.

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Israel had been vehemently opposed to the original 2015 deal and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers Iran to be Israel’s most dangerous enemy.

Austin is also due to meet Netanyahu during his two-day visit. Netanyahu is in an uncertain political position as he tries to pull together enough seats to form a coalition government after recent elections.

Austin is not expected to visit the Palestinian Territories, although Biden has signalled that he wants to rebuild ties with the Palestinians.

The previous administration of Donald Trump made several major diplomatic moves which were welcomed by Israel but denigrated by the Palestinians, including moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, and weakening support for a two-state solution.

Austin is expected in Germany on Tuesday, and in Brussels after that.

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