By Kristina Wong - 05/16/14 02:42 PM EDT
Hagel tells Israel: US will do ‘what we must’ to prevent nuclear Iran
Defense Secretary Chuck HagelChuck HagelHagel says NATO deployment could spark a new Cold War with Russia Overnight Defense: House panel unveils 5B defense spending bill Hagel to next president: We need to sit down with Putin MORE told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday that the U.S. would do “what we must” to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.
During a stop in Jerusalem, part of a five-day tour of the Mideast, Hagel sought to reassure Israeli leaders of the “United States' continued commitment to ensuring Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.”
“America will do what we must to live up to that commitment,” he said before a meeting with Netanyahu.
"As you said in the United States earlier this year, America's support for Israel is at an all-time high, and it is," Hagel told the prime minister.
Hagel’s visit comes as the U.S. and other world powers press ahead on talks with Iran over its nuclear program. Netanyahu, though, has been a harsh critic of those negotiations.
Netanyahu thanked the U.S. for its “steadfast support for Israel’s security,” citing the Iron Dome and David’s Sling defense systems, as well as new missiles and joint military training exercises.
He said the two men would discuss many subjects, but foremost would be "the danger posed to both our countries and to the peace of the world by Iran's pursuit of developing nuclear weapons.”
Netanyahu has charged that Iran is using the talks to stall action by the West while pushing ahead with developing nuclear weapons.
"I think as the talks with Iran continue, one thing must guide the international community, and that is we must not let the ayatollahs win. We mustn't let the foremost terrorist state of our time, Iran, develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said.
The Israeli leader cited a recent U.N. report finding that Iran continues to bypass sanctions to purchase materials that could be used to develop missiles.
"We've been saying all along that Iran is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community," he said.
The visit to the Middle East is Hagel’s third to the region in just over a year and includes stops in Saudi Arabia, for a U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council meeting, and Jordan.
Pentagon press secretary Adm. John Kirby last week said the council meeting was aimed at advancing America’s strategy in the Mideast, including a focus on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and further destabilizing the region.