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.”


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.”


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

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

Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has been witnessing a military campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who control the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. The Houthis launched drone and ballistic missile attacks on the kingdom in response to a punitive air bombing campaign that also killed civilians.

But while the kingdom consistently notes that every drone and missile launched by the Houthis has been successfully intercepted by its defenses, Austin put the rating instead at “nearly 90%.” The United States withdrew its THAAD air defenses and Patriot missile batteries from Prince Sultan Air Base several months ago.

“We will work with them until the percentage reaches 100%,” he said.


The Manama Dialogue is held every year in Bahrain, a small island kingdom off the coast of Saudi Arabia that is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Bahrain also engaged in a years-long campaign to crush dissent. Activists wrote to Austin before his trip, urging him to raise the issue of the detention of prisoners on the island, and Bahrain’s involvement in the Yemen war.


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