U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in the Middle East amid the ongoing upheaval that has swept across the region this year.
He said Sunday while traveling to Israel for his first visit as defense chief that Israeli leaders must restart negotiations with the Palestinians and work to restore relations with Egypt and Turkey.
Panetta is scheduled to hold talks this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. He will then travel to a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.
Panetta said Sunday it is critical for Israel to find ways to communicate with other nations in the region in order to have stability, and that Israel risks eroding its own security if it does not reach out to its neighbors.
He also stressed that the Israelis and Palestinians need to set aside preconditions and return to long-stalled peace talks.
Israel has formally accepted an international plan for restarting negotiations, but the immediate resumption of talks appears unlikely as the two sides continue to differ over terms of the proposal.
Mr. Netanyahu Sunday welcomed "the Quartet's call for direct negotiations without preconditions." He said Israel has concerns about the plan that it will raise at the "appropriate time." But he did not elaborate.
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