JERUSALEM, July 27, 2009 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates discussed the Iranian nuclear problem and other defense issues with Israeli leaders here today.

Gates met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak during a quick trip to Israel.

During a news conference with Barak at the historic King David Hotel, Gates received firsthand the Israeli feeling on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. “This is a central issue in our minds here,” Barak said. “We do welcome a coordinated international effort to try to block this nuclear military problem.”

The Israelis told Gates that the continuation of the Iranian effort could destabilize the whole Middle East. “Israel retains its position that no option should be taken off the table,” the defense minister said. “Of course, at this stage, priority still should be given to diplomacy and international cooperation.”

Gates agreed that a nuclear-armed Iran “would be profoundly destabilizing to the entire region and a threat certainly to Israel, the United States and other countries in the region.” He said Israel and the United States are in full agreement on the consequences of Iran becoming a nuclear power.

“We also agreed that we must take every opportunity to persuade the Iranians to reconsider what is actually in their own security interests,” Gates said.

President Barack Obama has said the United States will discuss the situation with Iran, but that the offer is not open-ended. “The president is fully aware that the Iranians may simply try to run out the clock,” Gates said. “I think the president is hoping for some kind of response by this fall,” at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly session.

The international community is imposing sanctions against Iran for its continued intransigence. Another path being pursued is to try to convince the Iranians that the country’s security is diminished by continuing to develop its nuclear capability.

“This is partly because it would be destabilizing, partly because it might set off an arms race in the Middle East,” Gates explained. U.S. efforts include developing bilateral and multilateral relationships with friends and allies in the region, he noted. This already has resulted in cooperation in the region on maritime surveillance and air defense, he added.

On his first visit to Israel in more than two years, Gates reiterated Obama’s pledge that the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable. “We also discussed the regional challenges we both face from terrorism to the threat posed by Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons,” Gates said during the news conference.

The United States provides Israel with financial and technical aid to combat threats posed by rockets and missiles. “We will continue to ensure that Israel has the most advanced weapons for its national defense,” Gates said. For example, he said, he and Israeli officials discussed progress with the Joint Strike Fighter. Israel is a partner in the stealth aircraft’s development.

“Of course, achieving long-term security for Israel is ultimately dependent on a sustainable, comprehensive Middle East peace,” Gates said. “The goal is vitally important for regional security.”

The United States will help to move the process forward by addressing Israeli requirements to make a two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution possible, Gates said.

Barak said Israel appreciates the U.S. commitment to the security of Israel and the monetary and technical assistance to keep Israel’s qualitative military edge.

Following the meetings, Gates departed for Jordan, where he will meet with King Abdullah and military leaders.

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