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U.S. Defense Chief Plans Israel Meetings Amid Iran Tensions

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is meeting with top Israeli leaders this weekend, making him the highest-ranking Biden administration official to visit that nation amid tensions between the longtime allies over U.S. talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the restoration of aid to Palestinians.

The meetings come as the Biden administration has sought to emphasize U.S. alliances world-wide, starting by visiting key allies and partners in Asia. The defense chief departs on his trip Saturday and, in addition to Israel, will visit Germany, the U.K. and Brussels, Belgium, to meet military and government leaders, the Defense Department said.

The visit comes during a shift in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, which once was defined by the peace process with the Palestinians, but relies more now on the Iranian issue, Israeli officials and analysts say.

“The main issue that will determine the direction of the relationship of the new U.S. administration and the Israeli government, whatever government [is formed], is the approach to the Iranian issue. This is really what the whole relationship is about right now,” said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

The U.S. this week began indirect talks in Vienna on a return to the Iran deal, which would require the U.S. to ease some sanctions while Iran returns to compliance to restrictions in the 2015 deal.

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