US defense secretary lands in Jordan at start of Middle East tour
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Jordan on Sunday at the start of a Middle East tour that will also take him to Israel and Egypt in a show of support for its main regional allies against the growing threat posed by Iran, US officials said.
Austin wrote on Twitter before his departure that he would meet key leaders and "reaffirm the US commitment to regional stability and advancing the shared interests of our allies and partners."
The US Defense Department said ahead of the visit that discussions would focus on the growing threat Iran poses to regional stability, and on advancing multilateral security cooperation with integrated air and missile defences.
Central to discussion will be the "full constellation of Iran-associated threats..," a senior defence official was quoted as saying on the Pentagon's official site ahead of the visit.
"Those threats include Iran's arming, training and funding of violent proxy groups, aggression at sea, cyber threats, its ballistic missile program and drone attacks," he added.
In Israel, Austin will also raise his concerns about a surge in violence in the West Bank that has alarmed Jordan and Arab leaders and discuss diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions ahead of Muslim and Jewish religious holidays, US officials said.
Earlier this week, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price slammed the Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich's call to 'wipe out' a Palestinian town, calling the comments "irresponsible", "repugnant" and "disgusting."
Austin's visit comes as a top US military officer, Army General Mark Milley made an unannounced visit to a US base in Syria on Saturday to assess a nearly eight-year-old mission there to combat the Islamic State group and to review safeguards for US troops against attack.