Panetta to Visit Middle East Next Week
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 26, 2012 Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta will travel to Middle East next week with stops in several nations that have seen governments toppled in the Arab Spring, including key ally Egypt.
In addition to Egypt, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little announced today that Panetta will visit Jordan, Tunisia and Israel. While in Egypt, Little said Panetta will meet with President Muhammad Mursi and Defense Minister Gen. Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who both hold power more than a year after mass demonstrations led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, a key U.S. ally.
Little told reporters Panetta will “affirm the commitment of the United States to the security and stability of the Middle East and North Africa.” While in Egypt and Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, “he will affirm the support of the United States to continued reforms.”
While in Israel and Jordan, Little said Panetta will discuss the violence in Syria as well as what he called “the destabilizing behavior” of Iran.
U.S. officials have repeatedly called on Syrian President Bashir al-Assad to step down, accusing his regime of unacceptable and deplorable violence, while raising concerns about the country’s stockpile of chemical weapons. On Monday, Little warned the Syrian government that “they should not think one iota” about using such weapons.