Panetta to meet with Arab leaders on Friday

Panetta will sit down with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council during the group's annual meeting in New York, DOD spokesman George Little told reporters on Tuesday at the Pentagon. 


It will be the second time in as many years that Panetta as met with the council, whose members include high-ranking diplomats from Saudi Arabia, Oman, Quatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. 

The meeting GCC talks will coincide with the United Nations' General Assembly meeting currently underway in New York. 

Panetta, along with Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSupreme Court agrees to hear 'faithless elector' cases Poll: Sanders holds 5-point lead over Buttigieg in New Hampshire Climate 'religion' is fueling Australia's wildfires MORE, met with GCC leaders last year to discuss ways of extending American military and diplomatic cooperation with regional allies in the Mideast. 

While Little did not provide specifics on the agenda for this year's meeting during Tuesday's briefing, the general tenor of the talks will likely follow the same formula. 

That said, several front-burner issues from the escalating crisis in Syria to the deepening conflict between Iran and the international community over Tehran's nuclear program are expected to dominate Friday's meeting. 

A pair of massive explosions rocked the Syrian capitol of Damascus on Wednesday, with members of the Free Syrian Army claiming credit for the attack against the country's army and air force headquarters, according to recent reports. 

For over a year, the Free Syrian Army and other rebel factions have been waging a civil war against government forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar Assad. 

While rebel fighters have increasingly brought the fight to Assad's doorstep in Damascus, government forces have been mercilessly hammering away with heavy artillery and fighter jets against rebel positions in the northern Syria.

The White House has steadily increased its non-lethal support, via communications equipment and intelligence assets, to the Syrian rebels in recent months. 

However, Washington has held off on supplying anti-Assad forces with weapons directly, despite recent calls from Capitol Hill and inside Syria to do so. 

Several Arab nations, including a number of GCC members, have already begun funneling weaponry to rebel forces as the conflict has already begun to boil over into neighboring countries like Turkey and Iraq. 

Meanwhile, patience within the international community is growing thin on Iran's closed-door policy regarding its nuclear enrichment program. 

Iran says that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, but the United States, Israel and their allies suspect Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly suggesting Jerusalem was willing to take out Iranian nuclear targets with military force. 

However, Israel's ruling class remains evenly split on whether a preemptive strike against Tehran is worth the severe repercussions that military action would almost surely ignite within the region. 

American and Israeli intelligence have concluded that such an attack would not eliminate the nuclear program, but only delay it between one to four years. 

The Obama administration has been adamant that a combination of harsh economic sanctions coupled with a focused diplomatic effort was the only way to resolve the Iran nuclear conflict.