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U.S. defense chief embarks on visit to N. Africa, Middle East (2)

(Xinhua)

08:24, July 30, 2012

"The message (of Panetta's visit) is just general support for what has happened in Tunisia," he said. "It's been a relatively stable and successful transition in Tunisia."

In Egypt, Panetta will meet with newly elected President Muhammad Morsi and Defense Minister Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who led the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces which ruled during the period between Mubarak's downfall early last year and the election of Morsi in June.

In Israel, the closest U.S. ally, Iran is expected to top the agenda of Panetta's meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. The two countries have vowed to use any means to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, though Tehran insists its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.

Panetta also will meet with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. "Our defense partnership is extremely close," the U.S. defense official said. "The level of interaction of U.S. government officials with Israeli counterparts has been very intense."

In Jordan, the U.S. defense chief will discuss important bilateral defense issues with King Abdullah II. "Syria will obviously be a topic of conversation, as the Jordanians are on the front line of that. The secretary wants to hear more about the humanitarian situation -- Jordan and Turkey are bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis," the official said.

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