WASHINGTON, May 17 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced on Thursday a decision to provide 70 million dollars in assistance for the Israeli Iron Dome air defense system, aimed at thwarting rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian militants.
"I was pleased to inform (Israeli Defense) Minister (Ehud) Barak that the (U.S.) President (Barack Obama) supports Israel's Iron Dome system and directed me to fill the 70 million dollars in assistance for Iron Dome that Minister Barak indicated to me Israel needs this fiscal year," Panetta said in a statement, issued after his talks with Barak at the Pentagon.
The U.S. support for Israel's Iron Dome short-range rocket and mortar defense system demonstrates that "the level of security cooperation between the United States and Israel has never been stronger," Panetta said.
"This announcement is an important step and a reflection of the extraordinarily close defense relationship between our countries," he added.
The U.S. defense chief promised that Washington is open to providing further funding to the Iron Dome system in the next three years, "based on annual assessment of Israeli security requirements against an evolving threat."
The United States has already provided 205 million dollars in funding for the Iron Dome system. "This is part of our rock solid commitment to Israel's security and comes on top of approximately 3 billion dollars in annual security assistance for Israel," Panetta said.
Panetta did not disclose whether he discussed the Iran nuclear issue with Barak, as the next round of the six-party talks on Iran 's nuclear program is expected to be held in Baghdad, Iraq on May 23.
The two close allies have been at odds with each other over how to deal with the Iran nuclear issue. Israel has been pushing the United States and other Western powers to harden their pressure on Iran, including resorting to the use of force, but the Obama administration insists there is still time for a peaceful solution to the crisis through negotiations, while promising to keep all options on the table.
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