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Panetta to visit North Africa, Middle East
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) July 26, 2012

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta heads to Tunisia and Egypt next week to support their "democratic transitions" and to Israel and Jordan to discuss the Syrian conflict, the Pentagon said.

Recent regime changes in Tunis and Cairo present "new opportunities for security cooperation," spokesman George Little told reporters on Thursday.

The Pentagon chief will stop first in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring series of popular uprisings against longstanding autocratic regimes in North Africa and the Middle East.

Panetta is then scheduled to head to Egypt for meetings with new President Mohamed Morsi and Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, leader of the Egyptian military council. Panetta last visited Egypt -- a longtime US ally -- in October.

In Jerusalem and Amman, Panetta will "engage close allies who share our concerns about Syria and Iran," Little said.

Aside from the Egyptian leaders, the Pentagon did not specify who Panetta will be meeting, nor did it release an exact timeline for the trip.

Israel and Jordan share borders with Syria, where more than 19,000 people have died in 16 months of rebellion, according to Syrian activists.

Israel has tightened security along its armistice line with Syria and reinforced its troops in the Golan Heights.

Jordan has had an influx of Syrian refugees since the crisis began.

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