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US defense chief: Maritime security a priority, ‘bad behavior’ will be deterred

Published: Updated:

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Saturday that he was not surprised that Iran had again announced a violation of the nuclear agreement.

"They had been violating it, they had violated the nuclear non-proliferation treaty for many years, so it's no surprise that the Iranians are going to pursue what the Iranians have always intended to pursue," he added, following talks with his French counterpart Florence Parly.

Esper was in France after visits to London and Stuttgart, Germany, to meet with NATO allies since taking up his post in July.

Parly reiterated France's calls for Tehran to "respect the Vienna accord", adding "we will continue with all our diplomatic efforts in this direction. We have to continue."

Esper also said that the US-European joint maritime security in the Arabian Gulf was about "deterring bad behavior."

“For us it is about deterring bad behavior in the Gulf,” Esper said.

“The key thing is we all defend those common values and those common rights that we have set up in the wake of World War II - whether it is from Iran trying to violate or whether it is from China in the South China Sea,” he added.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly said enhancing maritime security was a common goal between the two nations.

Esper said he had "productive discussions" with Parly, though neither indicated any progress had been made on de-escalating the conflict.

They also agreed to disagree on the US's new "maritime security mission" in the Gulf, aimed at ensuring open passage for vessels through the Strait of Hormuz after a series of incidents, including ship seizures by Iranian forces.

"The goal is to rally as many partners and means of surveillance as possible to improve security in the Gulf, and there's absolutely no competition between these initiatives," Parly said.