MANAMA, Bahrain – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is opening the door for the U.S. to sell missile defense and other weapons systems to a group of U.S.-friendly Gulf nations. The move is intended to help counter Iran’s ballistic missiles, even as global powers ink a nuclear deal with Tehran.
In a speech to Gulf leaders today, Hagel makes it clear that the emerging agreement that would limit Iran’s nuclear program doesn’t mean the security threat from Tehran is over.
Hagel’s speech is meant to counter apprehension in the region that the Iran nuclear deal, coupled with U.S. budget pressures and the drawdown in Afghanistan, could signal a decline in America’s commitment to the region.
The Pentagon “will place even more emphasis on building the capacity of our partners in order to complement our strong military presence in the region,” Hagel said in remarks prepared for delivery today at a security conference in Bahrain. “Nations are stronger when they work together against common threats.”
Washington has pushed for more than 20 years, particularly after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, for better defenses among a group of Gulf nations that includes longtime allies Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
The interim Iran agreement carved out less than two weeks ago by major nations, including the U.S., would freeze parts of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for some relief from crippling Western economic sanctions. The deal may open the door to warmer relations with the West, but it has escalated tensions in the Gulf region, where leaders worry that it could embolden Iran and destabilize the area.