Iran General NewsPersian Gulf conference to focus on Iran

Persian Gulf conference to focus on Iran

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AP: Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital commercial waterway, are the greatest concern for Naval security in the region, a senior U.S. Naval commander said Friday. The Associated Press

By LOLITA C. BALDOR

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital commercial waterway, are the greatest concern for Naval security in the region, a senior U.S. Naval commander said Friday.

Vice Adm. Kevin J. Cosgriff, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said that while the likelihood of that happening is low, concerns about Iran consume the region — and his day.

“I wake up thinking about Iran, I go to bed thinking about Iran,” Cosgriff told reporters on the eve of a regional conference here where Iran will be a key focus.

He added, “I know of no threat that would cause them to want to close … the Strait of Hormuz. To me it’s coercive, it’s intended to intimidate not only the regional nations — ‘look at us we can damage your prosperity’_ but it’s intended to intimidate the global market. I just don’t think that’s responsible behavior.”

His comments came a day before a regional security conference that Iranian officials decided at the last minute not to attend. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to make the keynote speech Saturday morning to foreign delegates and other national security officials from Persian Gulf nations and other major powers.

Gates has been meeting with his military commanders here, and will participate in the conference, sponsored by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. The meeting will focus on security issue in the region, but Iran is likely to dominate much of the discussions.

Pressure has been escalating on Iran over its nuclear program, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Brussels this week winning a NATO endorsement to stay the course on U.S. sanctions.

The U.S. and its allies want Iran to obey a U.S. Security Council demand that it halt its uranium enrichment program, which they believe could be used for nuclear bombs. But Iran insists it is only using the program to generate electricity.

Complicating matters is a recent U.S. intelligence report that says Tehran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and has shown no sign of resuming it.

The U.S. Navy and coalition ships in the region have been keeping a close watch on Iranian activity in the waters since the Revolutionary Guard — operating independently from the regular Iranian Navy — has taken over patrols near Iraq’s tiny Gulf coast.

That is the area where 15 British soldiers and marines were seized in March and held for 13 days by Iran, which claimed the Britons strayed into its waters.

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