Pentagon chief arrives in Saudi Arabia

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has invited Iran’s foreign minister to visit the country

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U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in the Saudi Arabia Tuesday, the first leg of a regional tour focusing on Iran’s nuclear program and Syria’s civil war, Agence France-Presse reported.

Hagel is set to hold talks with Saudi officials and on Wednesday he will meet Gulf Cooperation Council defense ministers in the first meeting of its kind since 2008.

An AFP photographer said Hagel’s plane touched down in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, ahead of a planned tour that U.S. officials said will also take him to Jordan and Israel.

“This trip will be the secretary’s third to the Middle East in just over a year, and it will advance America’s regional strategy in that region,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said last week.

Kirby last week said the U.S.-GCC meeting will namely offer Hagel a chance “to underscore U.S. security commitments in the Middle East and to reinforce the United States’ unstinting policy of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and further destabilizing the region.”

The gathering will also focus on coordinating “air and missile defense, maritime security and cyber defence,” he added.

After his stop in Saudi Arabia, Hagel will head to Jordan for talks on the raging civil war in its neighbor Syria.

Hagel will wrap up his regional tour in Israel for talks with top officials and to discuss efforts to bolster Israel’s rocket and missile defences, Kirby said.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has invited Iran’s foreign minister to visit, Riyadh’s counterpart said on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told a news conference that Zarif had been given an invitation to the kingdom but had not yet responded. He did not say when Riyadh issued the invitation, according to Reuters.

“...This intention to visit has not become a fact..., but any time he sees fit to come, we are willing to receive (Zarif),” Prince Saud said in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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