Reuters: Defense Secretary Robert Gates will argue on Saturday that the Middle East faces a shared threat from Iran and should act collectively to counter Iranian activities in the Gulf. By Kristin Roberts
MANAMA (Reuters) – Defense Secretary Robert Gates will argue on Saturday that the Middle East faces a shared threat from Iran and should act collectively to counter Iranian activities in the Gulf.
In a speech to a security conference in Bahrain, the Pentagon chief will reiterate the U.S. intention to maintain a long-term military presence in the Gulf, according to defence officials traveling with Gates.
The Pentagon says it considers much of Iran’s military activities a threat to the United States and its allies in the region as well as the global oil market.
Washington also accuses Iran of funding, training and arming Shi’ite militias in Iraq. A U.S. intelligence assessment this week said Tehran halted its nuclear program four years ago.
“Their behavior has really been a problem and to the extent that it destabilizes the region, which it does, then it becomes a problem for us,” said Adm. William Fallon, commander of U.S. Central Command, responsible for U.S. military activities in the Middle East.
“Everything they’ve done publicly has been a problem.”
He noted the detention of British sailors this year and Washington’s charge that Iran has delivered weapons and other support to insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“This is the kind of activity that I’ve seen that matches or supports their rhetoric that’s a problem.”
Another senior U.S. official in Bahrain said Gates would talk about possibilities for shared activities among countries in the Gulf. Those could include a shared early warning system to detect missile launches, the official said.
“One of the things that keeps coming up is shared early warning,” the official said.
“Are there shared early warning opportunities for us to develop a common picture and a common defence so that the first sign that a ballistic missile went off isn’t someone calling up and saying, ‘duck’?”
Gates’ scheduled comments in Bahrain follow a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. commanders said they continue to see some Iranian support for insurgents.
Iran has suggested its Islamic militia forces would be capable of disrupting Gulf oil shipping routes.
The Strait of Hormuz handles 17 million barrels per day of water-borne crude oil trade, over a third of global shipments.
The commander of U.S. naval forces in the Gulf region called Iranian threats over the Strait “coercive” and said any attempt to close the Strait by placing mines in international waters could be considered an act of war.
“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,” Vice Adm. Kevin Cosgriff said on Friday of threats from Iranian military officials to close the strait.
“We intend to keep it open,” he said.
(Reporting by Kristin Roberts, Editing by Robert Woodward)