JERUSALEM — U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is in Israel for the start of talks that will include sensitive discussions on what to do about Iran's nuclear ambitions. Earlier, Panetta stopped in Cairo, where he had praise for Egypt's new leadership.
The U.S. defense secretary arrived in Israel as speculation grows on whether Israel may launch a preemptive attack on Iranian nuclear sites.
At a stop in Cairo earlier Tuesday, Panetta said the United States shares Israel's concerns about Tehran's nuclear ambitions, but said talks would be limited to discussing the threat itself - not plans for war. “I think it's the wrong characterization to say that we're going to be discussing potential attack plans. What we are discussing is various contingencies of how we respond," he said.
The United States is tightening sanctions, hoping they will cause Iran to back down from any plans to build a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Some Israeli politicians are calling for a preemptive strike - saying the longer they wait, the more difficult it will be to stop Iran's nuclear program.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told an Israeli TV station Tuesday he is still speaking with his advisers about a possible attack. He said Israel has made no decision yet.
Earlier this week, Netanyahu said he does not believe sanctions are working.
Secretary Panetta is scheduled to meet with the Israeli leader on Wednesday.
Panetta was in Egypt Tuesday to get a better sense of what the U.S.-Egyptian military relationship will be like under new conservative Muslim President Mohamed Morsi, and to offer continued U.S. support.
Since taking office, Morsi has had political run-ins with the country's powerful military. Despite these, Secretary Panetta said his meetings with Mr. Morsi and Egypt's military chief, General Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, left him believing that the country's democratic transition is on track. “I was convinced that President Morsi is his own man and that he is the president of all the Egyptian people and that he is truly committed to implementing democratic reforms here in Egypt," he said.
Before stopping in Cairo, Panetta visited Tunisia - the site of the first Arab Spring popular uprisings last year, and praised what he said was the country's peaceful transition to democracy.