CENTCOM chief hits out at Iran, says US committed to Middle East partners

Gen. Erik Kurilla was in Saudi Arabia and Egypt as part of what he called a “listening tour.”

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The top US military general for the Middle East said in a recent interview that Iran was the “most destabilizing force” in the region, noting that countering this threat needed regional cooperation.

“I view Iran as the most destabilizing force in the Middle East. The United States’ position is that we will not allow a nuclear Iran. However, our concerns about Iran go beyond its nuclear capability,” US Central Command (CENTCOM) chief Gen. Erik Kurilla told Al Arabiya during Tuesday’s interview in Saudi Arabia.

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Gen. Kurilla pointed out Iran’s ballistic missile program and its support for proxies and Iran-backed militias in the region as other concerns for the US. “The Iranian threat requires a firm effort from us and our security partners in the region,” he said. “CENTCOM is committed to that effort.”

‘Listening tour’

Asked about his trip to Saudi Arabia, the US general said it was part of a “listening tour” and that he would be making several more trips back to the kingdom. He was in Egypt before heading to Saudi Arabia.

“This visit to the CENTCOM region… is largely an opportunity to glean insights from our partners here. In so doing, I’m looking for gaps, risks, and opportunities in security for our partners and for the region,” Gen. Kurilla said.

Gen. Kurilla will provide top US military officials with a 90-day assessment of his observations of the region as he prepares to take on his new role.

Gen. Frank McKenzie handed over the reins of CENTCOM earlier this year after serving in the position from 2019 to April of this year. Kurilla, 55, was leading the 18th Airborne Corps, including the US Army’s response forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina prior to his new role.

Gen. Kurilla also spoke to Al Arabiya about the importance of US-Saudi relations, calling it a strategic relationship and “one that underpins our strategy in the Middle East.”

Washington and Riyadh recently celebrated 77 years of bilateral ties, including security, technical and educational relationships.

“I’ll return to the kingdom many times in the coming months and years. In so doing, I will demonstrate American commitment to Saudi Arabia and the region,” Gen. Kurilla said.

Reiterating that he was committed to the US-Saudirelationship, Gen. Kurilla said the US was a reliable partner.

US committed to region, maritime security

Washington’s commitment to its military partners in the Middle East is “unwavering” and “ironclad,” he said. “We have been and remain committed to the Middle East.”

Last month, the US created a new naval task force with 15 US and international military personnel from

Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) member nations. The new force will target smuggling and piracy amid a rise of weapons flowing into Yemen and other parts of the Gulf, which continue to threaten civilian areas in countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The Iran-backed Houthis increased their attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE with the support of weapons being smuggled in, which is a concern for the US.

“We are concerned about the smuggling of advanced conventional munitions by sea to support Houthi operations. Therefore, anti-smuggling operations with the Royal Saudi Naval Forces will serve as an area of focus for me,” Gen. Kurilla said.

He also spoke of the waterways in the Middle East as being major transit routes for energy and trade. “Therefore, maintaining safe and secure waterways is a critical responsibility for us and our partners,” he said.

Read more: Biden’s CENTCOM chief pick says sanctions relief for Iran risks support for terrorism

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