Panetta to travel to North Africa, Middle East

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta next week will visit newly elected leaders in two of the countries where the Arab Spring unfolded, followed by consultations with close U.S. allies in the region.

Panetta will travel first to Tunisia, the country that led the series of popular revolts that have rocked North Africa and the Middle East over the last 18 months, followed by a stop in Egypt, where the regime of President Hosni Mubarak collapsed last year. Panetta will meet with the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, an ally of the country’s powerful Muslim Brotherhood movement, as well as Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Egyptian military.

“In both countries, he will consult with new leadership and reaffirm the support of the United States to continued reforms,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said. Panetta will continue on to meetings in Israel and Jordan, where the agenda will focus on bloodshed in Syria and the ongoing confrontation with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

“The secretary’s goal on the trip is to affirm the commitment of the United States to the security and stability of the Middle East and North Africa,” Little said. “That will require strengthening traditional alliances with countries like Israel and Jordan, and building strong partnerships with new democratic governments.”



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