US support for security in Mideast ‘strong, sure’: defense secretary

US support for security in Mideast ‘strong, sure’: defense secretary

MANAMA (RAHNUMA): The US warned on Saturday it was capable of deploying “overwhelming force” in the Middle East as it faced questions about its willingness to use its military power in the region.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain’s capital that all options would be open if diplomacy failed to halt Iran’s nuclear program, but he was also forced to rebut claims that the US had become reluctant to use force.

The Pentagon chief was asked why Washington did not respond to last month’s drone-and-artillery attack on a base used by the US-led coalition fighting Daesh in Syria.

“The United States of America maintains the right to defend itself. And we will defend ourselves and our interests, no matter what, at the time and place of our choosing,” he replied. “And let no country, let no individual be mistaken about that.

We are committed to defending ourselves and our interests and that includes our partners as well. And we’re also committed to not allowing Iran to get a nuclear weapon.”

Austin said Washington’s major goal was to strengthen its “unmatched” alliances in the Middle East, but that military force remained an option with tens of thousands of its troops stationed in the region.

In brief remarks to the forum, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki Al-Faisal called for “demonstrative action” in the region, including the “total enforcement” of the arms embargo on Yemen’s Houthis.

Austin said: “America’s commitment to security in the Middle East is strong and sure. Ultimately, our mission is to support diplomacy and to deter conflict and to defend the United States and our vital interests. If we’re forced to turn back aggression, we will win and we will win decisively.”

Addressing the forum, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani said Lebanon needed to demonstrate that Hezbollah could change its behavior to mend a rift with Gulf states.

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