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Secretary of Defense Conducts Media Availability, Israel

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  All right, guys, as we talked about, the secretary's going to have just a few comments to -- to share, and then we'll start with questions.  Bob, we'll give you the first one.  We don't have a whole lot of time, so we'll just get -- get everybody a chance to get one in.

Go ahead, sir.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III:  Yeah, let me -- let me just start by saying -- well, first of all, good morning and -- and thanks for joining us on the trip.  Thanks for -- for being here this morning.

I want to thank Minister Gantz for this visit.  We had a great -- great visit yesterday, and the ability to come out and talk to some of his leaders in the Air Force is -- has been very helpful.  It's a chance for me to see for myself how we're meeting our commitment to QME, and as I said yesterday, Israel is a key strategic partner and friend, and so we won't -- we won't lose focus on the threats that they face.  And so again, it's a -- it's a good opportunity to be here.

And so with that, I'll -- I'll take your questions.

MR. KIRBY:  Bob?

Q:  Mr. Secretary, I have a question for you about what happened yesterday in Iran.  Regardless of who is responsible for that power outage, are you concerned that this kind of development is going to make it more difficult for the U.S. to being made -- limiting Iran's nuclear program?

SEC. AUSTIN:  Bob, I'm -- I'm aware of the reports.  I really don't have anything to add on Natanz.  In terms of, you know, our efforts to engage Iran in diplomacy on the JCPOA, those efforts will continue, and I'm very, obviously, supportive of the president's efforts to negotiate a way ahead there.  And I'll just leave it at that.

Q:  You won't say whether you feel it's an impediment to that process?

SEC. AUSTIN:  Well, I -- my expectation is that we'll continue to focus on -- on doing what the president's trying to achieve there, so --

Q:  Okay.

MR. KIRBY:  John (inaudible)?

Q:  Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us today.

The New York Times reported that they had both Israeli and American intelligence sources over (inaudible) that this was an Israeli operation in Iran.  You’re set to meet with the prime minister later today (inaudible).  Do you expect this to come up?  And -- and just broadly on Iran, how do you perceive your conversation proceeding with the prime minister (inaudible)?

SEC. AUSTIN:  Well, yeah, and I'm here to -- to reassure the leadership of our commitment as a -- as a strategic partner.  I expect to engage him in key areas of defense cooperation, just as I did with Minister Gantz yesterday.  And so I think our -- that'll be the focus of our conversations.

MR. KIRBY:  Jim Garamone?

Q:  Mr. Secretary, if I can get to a little more mundane sort of thing, yesterday in the -- in your remarks you said that you wanted to enhance cooperation to advance shared security interests and priorities with Israel.  Did you discuss any specific capabilities, and more -- and what's your thinking on the way forward with that?

SEC. AUSTIN:  Well, I, you know, they have great capabilities as it stands, and of course, we want to make sure that we remain interoperable; that we're -- in terms of our plans, our concepts, and how we use our equipment, I think it's real important that we, you know, continue to work on that partnership.

And we heard some of that today as we talked to the leadership.  You know, they really have been doing a lot to exercise with Central Command, with our European Command, and it's just really impressive to see how much further we've gotten.  We've -- in terms of interoperability.

So I think their focus is they have a laser focus on making sure that they maintain a competitive edge and that I think they're doing a tremendous job, obviously.  And anything that we can do to help, we certainly will.  We will continue to do.

Q:  If I could just ask a follow-up, sir, you said -- you also said that you can provide U.S. support to normalize relations between Israel and Arab and Muslim-majority nations.  What would that entail?  Is that something that you'd like, military-to-military contacts, or --

SEC. AUSTIN:  I think what I said, Bob -- if I didn't say this, I meant to say this. I said -- I think I said I'm supportive -- we are supportive of that, and certainly, we have great relationships with many of the Arab and Muslim nations in the region.  And so anything that we can do to facilitate that, certainly, we will -- we'll continue to do that, so…

MR. KIRBY:  Guys, we've got to run to the helicopter, so -- all of us do, so we're going to have to call it a close.  Thanks.

Q:  Thanks a lot, sir.