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US foreign policy

US commitment to safety of Middle East partners will 'never' change: Official

“Some of our sanctions are related to human rights abuses and coming back into a nuclear deal doesn’t mean that the [Iranian] government has stopped shooting its people in the streets for expressing their views peacefully,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood says

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A senior State Department official Thursday played down suggestions that the US was considering withdrawing and leaving the Middle East region, noting that troops and machinery were redeployed “all the time.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that President Joe Biden had ordered the Pentagon to begin studying the removal of US forces and equipment from the Gulf region.

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But US officials were quoted as saying that Washington was looking at ways to boost Saudi Arabia’s defense capabilities as the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen continue their cross-border attacks using bomb-laden drones and ballistic missiles.

“The bottom line is that the Houthis need to know that we are standing with the Saudis, and we will continue to support their right to self-defense,” one US official told WSJ.

Read more: Lenderking back in US after ‘productive meetings’ on Yemen: State Department

Asked about the US withdrawing from the Gulf, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood said the Defense Department had made no final decisions.

“I mean troops, machinery, and equipment redeploy all the time,” Hood told Al Arabiya during an interview from the State Department on Thursday.

“And I don’t think any final decisions have been made by the Department of Defense, by the way, on any of this, so I wouldn’t make any predictions on any of them,” he added.

Asked how the US would reassure its partners and allies in the Gulf that it was committed to these ties, Hood said Washington’s alliances “are there to stay. They’re not going away. Our commitment to the safety, security and stability of our partners throughout the Middle East is not changing, and it never will,” he said.

Nevertheless, Hood admitted that the defense capabilities of its partners in the region were increasing. With that improvement, the US would no longer need to station certain machinery and weapons in the area.

“As our partners become more and more capable and able to take on more tasks by themselves, well, it doesn’t make as much sense for us to have people and expensive capabilities there. So that’s actually a mark of success in many ways,” Hood said.

The US official also reiterated that the countries in the region knew their partner of choice remained in the US.

“And we will continue to work hard every day to make sure that we warrant that trust,” he said.

As for Iran, Hood said the US stance was that which Biden announced. If Iran returns to full compliance with the JCPOA, an acronym for the nuclear deal, then the US would lift “certain” sanctions under that agreement.

But Hood was quick to note that not all sanctions would be lifted.

“Some of our sanctions are related to human rights abuses and coming back into a nuclear deal doesn’t mean that the [Iranian] government has stopped shooting its people in the streets for expressing their views peacefully,” he said.

Hood added: “As long as they’re doing that, we’re going to have sanctions on them for sure.”

Touching on the recent agreement between Iran and China, Hood said the US welcomed “healthy and normal” ties between countries, including with China.

“But that means it has to be on a level playing field according to internationally based rules so that investors know what they’re getting into,” adding that deals shouldn’t be based on corruption or other unpredictable factors.

The US official seemed unconcerned with Tehran and Beijing's recent deal because of past agreements China, Russia, and similar authoritarian countries struck with other governments.

“If you go back through your archives, I think you can find a number of examples of the Chinese government or the Russian government, or others, signing all sorts of deals and [MOUs] that never come to fruition,” he said.

Therefore, Hood said, the US would reserve judgment on the Iran-China deal until it materializes.

The US hopes it can work with China to pressure Iran on its nuclear program.

“There’s no reason why we can’t [work together] again because we know that the Chinese government doesn’t want to see nuclear weapons certainly proliferating in the region. And so, I think they share an interest with us in making sure that the Iranian program is entirely peaceful and is verified by the [International Atomic Energy Agency],” he said.

Read more: US welcomes Saudi Arabia’s ceasefire initiative for Yemen: State Department