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In Middle East, Pentagon chief seeks to reassure concerned allies

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin with NATO partners
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin attends a NATO Defence Ministers meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 21, 2021. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo

November 20, 2021

MANAMA (Reuters) – Defense 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 allies in the Middle East, since it is not backed by any announcements of further deployments or new weapon sales in the region.

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

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

Austin said there needs to be more multilateral and integrated operations in the region with allies.

He added that 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.

Gulf Arab states have asked to be included in the negotiations, and for any deal to address what they call Iran’s ballistic missile programme and destabilising behaviour in the region.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by William Mallard)

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