Austin seeks to reassure concerned ME allies

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US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin sought on Saturday to reassure allies in the Middle East that President Joe Biden’s administration was committed to the region despite Washington increasingly turning its attention towards countering China.

It was unclear how much impact Austin’s speech would have with Washington’s allies in the Middle East, since it was not backed by any announcements of further deployments or new weapon sales in the region.

Gulf Arab states, heavily reliant on the US military umbrella, have expressed uncertainty about Biden’s focus on the region, especially after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. They are now closely watching efforts to revive a global-powers nuclear pact with Iran.

In a speech in Bahrain during a trip to the Gulf, Austin acknowledged concern in the region and globally that the United States was solely focussed on China’s challenge.

“Let’s be clear: America’s commitment to security in the Middle East is strong and sure,” Austin said.

He said the United States was committed to countering Iran, even as Washington works to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

“We remain committed to a diplomatic outcome of the nuclear issue. But if Iran isn’t willing to engage seriously, then we will look at all the options necessary to keep the United States secure,” Austin said.

The Pentagon chief said that Washington would be coming to the indirect negotiations on reviving the deal starting on Nov 29 in Vienna in good faith.

“But Iran’s actions in recent months have not been encouraging – especially because of the expansion of their nuclear programme,” Austin said.

He said that Gulf states have asked for any deal to address what they call Iran’s ballistic missile programme and destabilising behaviour in the region. -Reuters

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