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U.S. Defense Secretary Visits Israel During ‘Days of Remembrance’

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

TEL AVIV, Israel, April 18, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is visiting this Mediterranean seaside city during a symbolic period, Gates’ Israeli counterpart said here today.

“We are welcoming you two days after having marked Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. We are welcoming you a short time after celebrating the Passover holiday when we read the verse that in every generation our enemies try to destroy us,” Defense Minister Amir Peretz said during a joint news conference with Gates at the Defense Ministry’s headquarters, the Kirya Defense Complex.

“These are days of remembrance for the Jewish people,” Peretz said. “In a week’s time, we will celebrate our 59th Independence Day. It is symbolic to me that our meeting is taking place at this time.”

Gates said he places great importance on the United States’ relationship with Israel.

“I was surprised to learn as I began to prepare for this visit that I was the first secretary of defense to visit Israel in almost eight years,” he said. “I think the fact that I have come here in the end of my fourth month as secretary illustrates the importance that I attach to our relationship with Israel.”

Today’s meeting between the two chiefs of defense focused significantly on the threat posed by Iran. The leaders and members of their staffs also discussed Syria and the robust U.S.-Israeli military-to-military relationship.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said publicly that the Holocaust never happened and that he’d like to see Israel destroyed.

“I would like to underscore the position of the State of Israel, which determines that Iran is a threat not only to Israel but to the entire region and the free world,” Peretz said. “This is a problem that concerns your government, the governments of Europe and all the countries of the free world. Iran denies the Holocaust, openly declares its plans and intentions, and we are sure that the free world, led by the United States, will not stand by.”

Gates said he stressed during the meeting that diplomacy and economic pressure are the best ways to deal with Iran.

“These things don’t work overnight, but it seems to me (diplomacy is) clearly the preferable course to keep our focus on diplomatic initiatives and particularly because of the united front of the international community at this point,” Gates said.

Peretz underscored that point, but still left room for other means of dealing with the nation, which President Bush labeled as part of the “Axis of Evil.”

“The diplomatic track is preferable, and it must be exhausted, but it is still not able to remove other options from the table,” Peretz said.

Gates also discussed Iran in a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak earlier today in Cairo, Egypt. In a news conference at Egypt’s Presidential Palace, Gates said he and Mubarak spoke of “the desirability of continuing diplomatic and economic measure intended to sway the Iranians to change their policy, their behavior.”

In response to a reporter’s question, Gates reiterated statements made a day earlier by Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Peter Pace that U.S. officials have discovered Iranian-made weapons in Afghanistan.

Gates said the U.S. doesn’t know if or at what level the Iranian government sanctioned supplying arms to Afghanistan. However, he called it “troubling and worrisome that the Iranians may be deciding to counter the efforts of some 42 nations and Afghanistan trying to help the Afghan government establish a strong democratic state, so we’ll watch it very closely.”

In today’s broad-ranging news conference at the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Gates also touched on the situation in Iraq when a reporter asked him to discuss a series of attacks in Baghdad today that killed up to 170 people, according to some media reports.

The secretary reminded reporters that U.S. military officials have said enemy fighters would step-up the violence in response to the recent Baghdad security plan, which calls for heightened U.S. and Iraqi military presence in the Iraqi capital.

“Today was a horrifying thing,” Gates said. “But I think it illustrates another point: These terrorists are killing innocent men, women and children who are Iraqis. They are killing their countrymen, and I think it is important to highlight their efforts to try and disrupt the process of a reconciliation, to try and prove the Baghdad security plan a failure, and we intend to persist to show that it is not.”

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Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
U.S. State Department Country Background Note on Israel

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