Pentagon chief to visit Jerusalem amid Iran talks

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US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is due to arrive in Jerusalem on Sunday, the highest ranked member of President Joe Biden’s administration to visit Israel.

The two-day visit comes as the Biden administration attempts to return to an Iran nuclear deal abandoned by its predecessor -- a deal Israel opposes.

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Austin is expected to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Benny Gantz and armed forces chief Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi.

The trip will also include a tour of the Nevatim air force base and visits to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and to a Jerusalem memorial to fallen soldiers.

Austin arrives days after representatives of the remaining parties to the troubled 2015 nuclear deal launched talks in Vienna on bringing the United States back into it.

Then president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.

The Vienna talks are focused not only on lifting crippling economic sanctions Trump reimposed, but also on bringing Iran back into compliance after it responded by suspending several of its own commitments.

All sides said the talks, in which Washington is not participating directly but has the European Union as intermediary, had got off to a good start.

Israel opposes the US attempt to rejoin the accord.

Speaking last week, Netanyahu said Israel would not be bound by its terms.

“An agreement with Iran that would pave the way to nuclear weapons -- weapons that threaten our extinction -- would not compel us in any way,” Netanyahu said in a speech on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Iran and Israel have both recently attacked each other’s commercial shipping, reports say.

Austin will also visit Germany, the United Kingdom and Belgium on his tour, according to the Pentagon.

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