Source AP ©

Israeli official: U.S. defense secretary to visit Israel next week

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will visit Israel next week, an Israeli official said Thursday - the first visit here by a Pentagon chief since 2000.

Gates is to meet with his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, and with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, an official from Olmert's office told The Associated Press.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Gates' trip has not yet been officially announced, and would not give the exact date of the visit for the same reason.

The last U.S. defense secretary to visit Israel was William Cohen, in November 2000, during the Clinton administration. Despite the close ties between the Bush administration and the Israeli leadership, Donald Rumsfeld, who served in the post before stepping down in November 2006, did not visit.

The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv would not confirm Gates' visit, saying any such announcement would have to come from the Pentagon.

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