By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
May 20, 2009 - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates spoke about ways to bring stability and security to the greater Middle East during a Pentagon meeting yesterday. Netanyahu was in Washington for his first meetings during his current term as prime minister. He also served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999. The meeting with Gates followed a White House meeting between the prime minister and President Barack Obama.
Chief among the discussions between Gates and Netanyahu was the threat Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile program poses to the region and world, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said. "The secretary shares the prime minister's concern that Iran's nuclear ambitions threaten not just Israel and the United States, but could spark an arms race in the Middle East that would further destabilize the region," Morrell said in a written statement on the talks.
Gates reiterated Obama's commitment to try to engage Iran and offer incentives to persuade them to change course and become a full-fledged member of the international community, Morrell said. The president said after his own talks with Netanyahu that he expects progress to be made with Iran on the subject by the end of the year.
Gates told the prime minister that there is a limit to the administration's patience with Iran.
"Should Iran rebuff the U.S. initiative, the secretary told the prime minister there would be serious consequences, including much stronger international sanctions," Morrell said.
The two men also discussed cooperation on missile defense, how to stem the flow of arms into the Gaza Strip and expediting the training of Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. Gates will follow up his talks with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The United States provides about $2.4 billion per year in defense aid to Israel.