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Middle East: U.S., Israel close many gaps in defense aid talks, hope for deal soon

The United States and Israel have closed many of the remaining gaps in negotiations over a new multibillion-dollar military aid package for Washington's top Middle East ally, and the two sides hope to reach a deal soon, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.

Jacob Nagel, acting head of Israel's national security council, wrapped up three days of closed-door discussions in Washington over a new 10-year defense pact, including a meeting with U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice.

Drawn-out aid negotiations have underscored continuing friction between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over last year's U.S.-led nuclear deal with Iran, Israel's arch-foe. The United States and Israel have also been at odds over the Palestinians.

However, with Obama due to leave office in January, both sides have appeared increasingly determined to come to an agreement to enshrine U.S. assistance to Israel over the next decade.

“We've made progress and closed many of the remaining gaps. We hope soon to be able to reach final agreement,” the senior official told Reuters after the talks concluded. However, the official declined to elaborate or provide a precise timetable for completing negotiations.

Raising hopes for removal of a key sticking point, Israel had signaled at the start of the talks that it might accept the Obama administration's demand that U.S. military funds, until now spent partly on Israeli arms, will eventually be spent entirely on U.S.-made weapons, according to U.S. sources.

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