Last updated: 19 April, 2012

US and Israeli defense chiefs meet at the Pentagon

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hosted Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak Thursday in their second Pentagon meeting in as many months as concern grows over Syrian unrest and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The closed-door conversation focused on the “US-Israel defense relationship and mutual regional security defense interests,” including Iran, Syria and effects of the Arab Spring on the region, the Pentagon said in a statement.

The meeting took place amid Western efforts to end the violence in Syria, where the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has now claimed 11,000 lives, according to the Britain-based watchdog Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

It was also less than a week after world powers resumed talks with Iran on its disputed nuclear program. Iran claims it is solely for peaceful purposes, but the United States, Israel and others suspect it seeks an atomic bomb.

President Barack Obama’s administration has expressed confidence that sanctions coupled with diplomacy can resolve the years-long standoff as it seeks to convince Israel to tone down talk of pre-emptive air strikes on Iran.

At the end of their meeting, Panetta and Barak marked Holocaust Memorial Day by lighting candles in remembrance of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II.