Hagel to meet Israeli Defense Minister Barak at Pentagon

WASHINGTON Fri Mar 1, 2013 4:35pm EST

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks to service members and civilian employees on his first day in his new post after being sworn in, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks to service members and civilian employees on his first day in his new post after being sworn in, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, February 27, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, whom Republican critics have sought to portray as anti-Israel, will meet Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak at the Pentagon on Tuesday for his first face-to-face visit with a foreign counterpart.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the talks between the U.S. and Israeli defense chiefs would include discussions on Iran, but did not offer details.

"The secretary is honored that Minister Barak will be the first foreign counterpart that he will host at the Pentagon," the official said, adding the two had known each other for more than a decade.

Barak's visit to the Pentagon coincides with a conference from Sunday to Tuesday of the leading U.S. pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, at which Barak, a former Israeli prime minister, is scheduled to speak.

Hagel was put on the defensive during his Senate confirmation hearing for once accusing a "Jewish lobby" of intimidating people in Washington, comments the former two-term Republican senator has repeatedly said he regretted.

Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, has spoken strongly about America's close defense ties with Israel and the need to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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