Defense chief vows to counter Iran in visit to Bahrain

“The United States remains determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And we remain committed to a diplomatic outcome on the nuclear issue, ”Austin said at an event hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “But if Iran is not ready to get seriously involved, we will consider all options that are necessary to ensure the security of the United States.”

Iran has long considered its nuclear program peaceful, although US intelligence and the International Atomic Energy Agency say Tehran had an organized weapons program until 2003. The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday.

Since then President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018, a number of escalating incidents have hit the Middle East. These include drone and mine attacks on ships at sea as well as attacks blamed on Iran and its representatives in Iraq and Syria. The US also killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad in early 2020 when Iran aimed ballistic missiles at American troops in Iraq.

Under Biden, U.S. military officials are considering a broader redistribution of the armed forces from the Middle East to other areas, although it still maintains a large presence at bases across the region. Austin hinted at this in his remarks, saying, “Our potential blow includes what our friends can contribute and what we have prepositioned and what we can quickly pour in.”

“Our friends and enemies both know that America can use overwhelming force in a time and place of our choosing,” Austin said.

Austin’s comments touched on the ongoing war in Yemen, for which the Biden government ceased its offensive support shortly after taking office.

Saudi Arabia has been waging a military campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who are holding the Yemeni capital Sanaa since 2015. The Houthis have launched drone and ballistic missile strikes on the kingdom in retaliation for a punitive air strike that also killed civilians.

But while the Kingdom continually advises that any drone and missile fired by the Houthis will be successfully intercepted by its defenses, Austin sets the rate at “nearly 90%” instead. The US also withdrew its THAAD air defense and Patriot missile batteries from Prince Sultan Air Base a few months ago.

“We’ll work with them until it’s 100%,” he said.

The Manama Dialogue takes place every year in Bahrain, a small island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia, where the 5th fleet of the US Navy is stationed. Bahrain has also engaged in a year-long campaign to crush dissenting opinions. Activists wrote to Austin prior to his trip urging him to increase the number of prisoners on the island and Bahrain’s involvement in the Yemen war.

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