Pentagon chief to visit Europe, Israel amid tensions with Russia, Iran
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin this week will meet with key U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East amid U.S. tensions with Russia and indirect nuclear talks with Iran.
Austin is slated to travel to Israel, Germany, the United Kingdom and NATO headquarters in Belgium.
Starting Saturday, Austin will meet with government and military leaders “to discuss the importance of international defense relationships, and reinforce the United States’ commitment to deterrence and defense, burden sharing, and enduring trans-Atlantic security,” the Pentagon said in a statement Thursday.
Austin will be the Biden administration’s highest ranking official to meet Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. The three are expected to discuss “shared priorities” and reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Israel keeping its military superiority over other countries in the region, the Defense Department statement said.
In Germany, Austin will meet with German Minister of Defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Chancellery Foreign and Security Policy Adviser Jan Hecker, with talks to cover “combatting the malign influence of our shared strategic rivals,” and the status of U.S. forces stationed in Germany.
Austin will then travel to Belgium to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and discuss “how the Alliance is tackling destabilizing behavior by Russia, a rising China, terrorism, and global challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change.”
The final stop will be in the U.K., where Austin will meet with Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace.
The Pentagon did not give dates for Austin’s stops in each country.
The trip takes place amid a series of skirmishes in the Middle East as Israel aims to limit Iran’s military influence in the region.
Israel over the past two years has attacked ships carrying Iranian oil and weapons traveling through the eastern Mediterranean and Red Seas, while Iran has led its own attacks against Israeli-owned ships.
Meanwhile, the first day of renewed talks to bring Iran and the U.S. back into the 2015 nuclear agreement took place earlier this week, the most forward movement the Biden administration has taken as part of its efforts to return to the deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Austin’s trip also comes as Russia has begun to amass troops and military equipment along Ukraine’s eastern border, a development which Biden was “increasingly concerned” about, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.
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