WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Defense Minister Ehud Barak met in Washington Tuesday morning in Hagel’s first meeting with a foreign counterpart.
Hagel faced a grueling nomination process. As a conservative Republican — nominated by a Democratic president — who has expressed critical views of Israel and Washington’s Israel supporters, opposition to Hagel’s nomination came from many quarters. Now installed as the Pentagon’s top civilian, Hagel seems to be going out of his way to mend fences, say observers.
Barak and Hagel met at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Pentagon, two days after Barak spoke at the AIPAC Policy Conference taking place in the city.
At the conference, Barak offered a prediction that was interpreted by many at AIPAC as an endorsement of Hagel. “As secretary of defense, he will no doubt serve his country with the same pride and honor with which he served on the battlefield and in Congress,” Barak said.
“The new SecDef wanted to make sure Barak would be the first visit,” Foreign Policy reported on Tuesday.
“It’s expected to be a meeting of old friends, ready to keep up the great work accomplished in the past few years under Panetta,” a defense official told the magazine.
“The secretary is honored that Minister Barak will be the first foreign counterpart that he will host at the Pentagon,” a Pentagon official told Reuters earlier in the week, adding the two have known each other for more than a decade.
The meeting reportedly dealt with Iran, Syria, and expected sequestration-related cuts of as much as $38 million from joint US-Israeli missile defense programs over the next seven months.
“These programs cost a lot of money and department leaders are grappling with how to still provide urgent funds after Congress failed to resolve sequestration,” Pentagon officials said.
The high-level meeting included Hagel’s deputy Ash Carter and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey.
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