US defense chief vows to counter Iran in Bahrain visit

Then-Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd J. Austin III before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C. Jan. 19, 2021. (EJ Hersom/DOD)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin vowed on November 20 to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and to counter its “dangerous use” of suicide drones in the Middle East, a pledge coming as Washington works to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

“The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. And we remain committed to a diplomatic outcome of the nuclear issue,” Austin said in Bahrain at the annual Manama Dialogue, in remarks that appeared aimed at reassuring America’s Arab allies who have expressed concern over Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile program and its activities in the region.

“But if Iran isn’t willing to engage seriously, then we will look at all the options necessary to keep the United States secure,” he added at the event.

Since then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, a series of escalating incidents have struck the region, including drone and mine attacks targeting vessels at sea.

U.S. President Joe Biden has promised to rejoin the nuclear deal if Iran returns to full compliance.

Talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 agreement, which significantly limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, are due to resume on November 29.

Austin said Washington would be coming to the indirect negotiationsin Vienna in good faith. while noting that Iran has been expanding its sensitive nuclear work.

“But Iran’s actions in recent months have not been encouraging – especially because of the expansion of their nuclear program,” he said.