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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to the Pentagon

PRIME MINISTER BENNETT: Oh, Mr. Secretary, I appreciate very much that you took the time on -- on these pretty busy days and found the time to have us over, and -- and very much appreciate that. We've got a lot of big issues on the table and I think our longstanding friendship and the alliance will ensure that we can retain stability in the area and then keep ourselves strong in a pretty tough neighborhood.

SECRETARY AUSTIN: Well, thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. It is an absolute delight to have you here. Want -- want to welcome you back to the Pentagon. This is your first visit as Prime Minister and we're thrilled to -- to be able to -- to have a dialogue with you this afternoon.

I know that you're familiar with these hallways from your visit last year as Defense Minister. It's great to have you back, knowing the deep commitment that we share to strengthening and -- and expanding the U.S.-Israel strategic partnership.

The administration remains committed to Israel's security and right to self-defense. That is unwavering, it is steadfast and it is ironclad. You can see that support expressed in our commitment to providing Israel with $33 billion in foreign military financing, as well as $5 billion for the ballistic missile defense research and development under our current 10-year memorandum of understanding.

You can also see that commitment as we advocate for the replenishment of the Iron Dome missile defense system. The administration is committed to ensuring that Iron Dome can defend Israeli civilian population centers targeted by terrorist attacks, and we're working closely with Congress to provide all the necessary information to respond positively to your request for the -- for $1 billion in emergency funding, and it's going to save more innocent lives.

The Department of Defense is also committed to maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge and to ensuring that Israel can defend itself against threats from Iran, its proxies and terrorist groups. And in that vein, Mr. Prime Minister, I look forward to a frank discussion today about Iran's alarming -- alarming nuclear steps and continued regional aggression. Iran must be held accountable for acts of terrorism and aggression, whether in the -- in -- in the Middle East or in international waters, like the July 30th attack on the Mercer Street commercial vessel. 

We've also been closely watching as Israel has been a global leader in the battle against COVID-19 and we'll keep consulting closely with you and sharing lessons learned. And looking right next door, I'm pleased that the United States is providing 500,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to the Palestinians. 

Now, over decades of cooperation, the United States and Israel have built -- built a strong and enduring partnership, and that partnership is rooted in trust, shared democratic values and mutual security interests. Moving forward, we're going to build on that, Mr. Prime Minister, and we're going to seek lasting security for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Mr. Prime Minister, I'm personally committed to deepening our security cooperation and working together on our shared defense priorities. 

Thank you again, sir, for joining us today and I look forward to our important discussions. 

PRIME MINISTER BENNETT: Thank you very ...