US Defense Secretary vows to confront Iran during his visit to Bahrain

US Defense Secretary vows to confront Iran during his visit to Bahrain

Dubai — The top US defense official on Saturday vowed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and counter the “dangerous use” of suicide drones in the broader Middle East, a pledge that comes as negotiations over Tehran’s shattered nuclear deal with world powers continue to stall.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s remarks in Bahrain at the annual Manama Dialogue appeared aimed at reassuring America’s Gulf allies as the Biden administration attempts to revive the nuclear deal, which limited Iran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.

His comments also come after Gulf sheikhdoms saw a chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, raising concerns about America’s commitment to the region as defense officials say they want to direct forces to meet perceived challenges from China and Russia.

The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Austin said at an event held by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “But if Iran is not willing to engage seriously, we will consider all options necessary to keep the United States safe.”

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Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is peaceful, although US intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency say Tehran had an organized weapons program until 2003. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, a series of escalating incidents has hit the wider Middle East. This includes drone attacks and mines targeting ships at sea, as well as attacks blamed on Iran and its proxies in Iraq and Syria. The US also killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad in early 2020, as Iran targeted US forces in Iraq with ballistic missiles.

Under Biden, US military officials are looking at a broader redistribution of forces from the Middle East to other regions, although it still maintains a significant presence at bases across the region. Austin alluded to this in his notes, saying, “Our potential punches include what our friends can contribute, what we’ve put in advance, and what we can flow into quickly.”

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“Our friends and foes know that the United States can deploy overwhelming force at a time and place of our choosing,” Austin said.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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