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US Defense Secretary touches down in Israel

American Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has met his Israeli counterpart for high-level talks in Tel Aviv. Ahead of the meeting, the two spoke of a strong US-Israeli relationship amid speculation over an attack on Iran.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday reaffirmed the close relationship between Tel Aviv and Washington ahead of high-level talks in Israel on Iran's nuclear program.

"We are a friend, we are a partner, we have, as the defense minister has pointed out, probably the strongest US-Israel defense relationship that we have had in history. What we are doing, working together, is an indication not only of our friendship but of our alliance to work together to try to preserve peace in the future," Panetta said.

"The defense ties between Israel and the United States are stronger and tighter than they have ever been and the credit now has to go, most of it, to you, Leon," his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak also said, speaking at the same press conference.

Tight-lipped on military intentions

The Pentagon chief touched down in Tel Aviv late on Tuesday following a meeting in Cairo with Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsi, where Panetta denied media reports that he intended to disclose American plans for military action against Iran in the meeting with Israel.

Panetta in Cairo

Panetta denied that the US plans to attack Iran when in Egypt yesterday

"I think it's the wrong characterization to say that we're going to be discussing potential attack plans," Panetta said to reporters in Cairo.

"What we are discussing are various contingencies on how we would respond."

There has been speculation about possible US plans for a strike against Iran since a secret visit to Israel some weeks ago by US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, who briefed Israeli statesman Netanyahu on US plans to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, according to the Israeli daily, Haaretz newspaper.

Fresh sanctions

America also gave signs it wanted to clamp down somewhat on Iran yesterday when it leveled new sanctions at the country “to deter Iran from establishing payment mechanisms for the purchase of Iranian oil to circumvent existing sanctions," in the words of President Barack Obama.

Tehran maintains that its nuclear program is for civilian energy uses, but suspicions that Iran will use enriched uranium for nuclear weapons persist and Israel believes the country is a nuclear threat. Traditionally, the US has discouraged Israel from launching a military strike on Iran.

sej/ccp (AP, AFP)