US armed forces chief in Tel Aviv for talks on Iran threat
Defense Minister Barak meets with US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mullen to discuss contested American intelligence report vindicating Iran. Mullen met earlier with Israel's military brass who briefed him on various topics. 'Sometimes friends disagree,' said Mullen of bitter differences of opinion between Israel, US on Iran's nuclear program following NIE report
The United States' top military commander met with Israel's defense minister and armed forces chief on Monday in the wake of a US intelligence report that Iran has suspended its attempt to build nuclear
The Israeli Defense Ministry said Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Adm. Mike Mullen discussed ''a range of regional security issues."
"The discussion was centered on the mutual challenge that Israel and the United States, indeed the entire Middle East, face right now, and the shared recognition that there remains a potential for Iran to develop nuclear weapons and to threaten its neighbors," Mullen's spokesman, Captain John Kirby, said.
Mullen's one-day visit to Israel was the first in a decade by a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US armed forces. It came as Israel and the administration of US President George. W. Bush sought to keep up the push for tougher sanctions against Iran, despite the publication of the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) last week. The report said Iran's nuclear weapons program had been on hold since 2003 though its uranium enrichment facilities might produce enough fissile material for bombs in the next decade.
Mullen with Ashkenazi on Monday morning (Photo: AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert criticized the report on Sunday and said Israel stood by its own intelligence assessment that Iran could be just two years away from having enough highly enriched uranium to make warheads for its long-range missiles.
The Pentagon has played down the NIE findings.
"It's important to remember that the NIE was an independent assessment," Kirby said. "He (Mullen) also is mindful that the report made it clear that Iran did have a nuclear weapons program (and) that they are still enriching uranium."
Kirby described Mullen's discussions with the Israelis as "productive and candid" but declined to give further details.
Barak's office said in a statement that he and Mullen had gone over a range of regional issues including a joint Israeli-US effort to develop a multi-tier missile defense system.
Earlier in the day Mullen met with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi at the IDF's central base in Tel Aviv. The two discussed Israel's various security threats, including the situation with Iran.
Mullen was briefed by various IDF commanders, including the army's chief of intelligence, air force commander and Israel's future military attaché to Washington.
"Sometimes friends disagree," said Kirby of the differences of opinion between Israel and the US over Iran's agenda.