U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, and Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon pay their respects Friday at the tomb of assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, as they visit the Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem. Hagel pledged to Israeli leaders Friday that the U.S. 'will do what we must' to prevent the Jewish state's greatest fear of a nuclear-armed Iran. (AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool) (Mandel Ngan / AP)
JERUSALEM — U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel pledged to Israeli leaders Friday that the U.S. “will do what we must” to prevent the Jewish state’s greatest fear of a nuclear-armed Iran.
Hagel made the public pledge in a statement at talks in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I want to assure you of the United States’ commitment to ensuring Iran does not get a nuclear weapon — and that America will do what we must to live up to that commitment,” Hagel said.
Both men spoke of the disputed Iranian nuclear program, which is the topic of negotiations this week in Vienna between Western powers and Iran.
“We’ve been saying all along that Iran is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community,” Netanyahu said in a statement while standing beside Hagel.
He cited a United Nations report on what he called “Iran’s ongoing effort to deceive the international community to continue to develop ICBMs and to continue to violate its commitments of security council stipulations on forbidding it to develop certain parts of its nuclear program.”
“They continue to do that and I think that requires a very clear and firm policy on the part of world powers,” Netanyahu said.
The Israeli leader said, “we must not let the ayatollahs win, we mustn’t let the foremost terrorist state of our time, Iran, develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons.”
Hagel was wrapping up a four-day Middle East visit that began Tuesday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he met with defense leaders from Persian Gulf nations with longstanding security ties to the Unites States.
Hagel’s trip coincided with international talks in Vienna with Iran aimed at drafting a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program, which is a top-priority issue for the Gulf Arab states as well as for Israel.
The Iranian government says it has no intention of building a nuclear bomb.
Improving relations with Iran has been a high foreign policy priority for President Barack Obama, and the Vienna talks have raised hopes of meaningful progress on the nuclear issue
In Saudi Arabia Hagel said that “under no circumstance” will the U.S. sacrifice its allies’ interests in order to make a nuclear deal with Iran.
More broadly, Hagel’s talks in Saudi Arabia were intended to persuade the sometimes fractious Gulf states to collaborate on missile defense and other security initiatives. They agreed to meet more frequently to discuss these issues but announced no new steps toward an integrated air and missile defense system.
In Israel, Hagel made a brief visit Thursday to an air base where U.S. and Israeli forces were preparing to begin a missile defense exercise, dubbed Juniper Cobra, using computer simulation of potential attack scenarios and post-attack disaster responses.
Washington has been trying for more than two decades to get the Gulf states to do more collectively in their own defense, with limited results. Then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney began that push in 1991 in the aftermath of the Gulf War, which began when Iraq invaded a largely defenseless Kuwait and the U.S. came to its defense by deploying about 500,000 troops to the Gulf and drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait.
Since then, many of the Gulf states have bought billions of dollars worth of American weaponry, including missile defense systems like the Patriot. But the defenses have not been integrated and thus have limited capabilities against a potential Iranian missile barrage.