Defense Secretary Austin will meet with Europe, Israel officials amid heightened tensions with Russia, Iran

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will travel to Europe to meet with U.S. allies as tensions increase over Russia’s decision to move 28,000 troops to the Ukraine border, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

The top defense official on Saturday will meet with government and military counterparts in Germany, the United Kingdom, and at the NATO headquarters in Belgium before traveling to Israel.

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Austin will address “the importance of international defense relationships, and reinforce the United States’ commitment to deterrence and defense, burden sharing, and enduring trans-Atlantic security,” the Pentagon said in a statement Thursday.

Russia’s aggressive actions over the last week have prompted backlash from both NATO officials and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who called on President Vladimir Putin to pull back his troops from the southwest border, reported Reuters

The White House expressed their concerns Thursday, saying Russia’s actions were “deeply concerning.”

“The United States is increasingly concerned by recent escalating Russian aggressions in eastern Ukraine, including Russian troop movements on Ukraine’s border,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

“Russia now has more troops on the border with Ukraine than at any time since 2014,” she added.

The Pentagon chief will travel to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz “to continue close consultations on shared priorities” and reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Israel.

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The Israeli meeting will come just days after the Biden administration announced renewed funding for Palestinian humanitarian aid programs.

The U.S. will distribute $235 million to assist Palestinians with healthcare, education and food insecurity – a move that the White House has said is necessary to help stabilize the region and advance a two-state solution, but one that Israel flatly rejected.

U.S.-Israeli relations remain an important geopolitical tie as the U.S. advances discussion with Iran on nuclear non-proliferation.

Israel has condemned the Biden administration’s focus on restoring talks with Iran, alleging it “will pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal.”

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Tensions between Iran and Israel are heightened as the two countries have engaged in small skirmishes regarding oil tankers in recent years.

Austin will conclude his trip in the United Kingdom, though the Pentagon has not said how long the trip will last. 

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