Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III will travel to the Middle East tomorrow to consult with allies and assure them of the United States' unwavering commitment to security in the region.
Austin will be the main speaker at the Manama Dialogue in Bahrain. He will meet with civilian and military leaders from around the region at that annual event.
The secretary told reporters at a Pentagon news conference that he will stress two themes during his journey. He will stress that the United States is deeply committed to Middle East security and will continue to strengthen partnerships in the region.
"Second, we understand many of today's most pressing security challenges in the Middle East and elsewhere transcend borders. So, we must meet these shared threats with shared solutions in lockstep with our friends, who also come to the table with formidable capabilities."
U.S. partnerships in the region were on display during the evacuation of Kabul, Afghanistan. The nations of the Middle East – including Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar — helped the U.S. military evacuate more than 124,000 people.
Austin will also visit the UAE during the trip. "I'm looking forward to discussing our two countries' common defense priorities," he said.
Iran will be a topic among all leaders in the Arabian Gulf. "It's not lost on me that this trip comes at a time when Iran is stoking tensions and undermining stability in the region," he said. "We remain deeply committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And I've said before, no problem in the Middle East gets easier to solve with a nuclear-armed Iran."
There have been a number of incidents in the region, and Austin reiterated that U.S. forces will defend themselves and U.S. partners and interests against threats from Iran or its proxies.
The secretary also discussed troubling behavior from Russia. There has been a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine, and Russia conducted an anti-satellite test that endangers all spacefaring nations. "It causes us deep concern," he said. Austin said the U.S. will continue to call on Russia to act responsibly and be more transparent about the buildup of the forces on the border of Ukraine.
"We're not sure exactly what Mr. Putin is up to," Austin said. "But these movements certainly have our attention. … I would urge Russia to be more transparent about what they're up to. Our support for Ukraine['s] sovereignty and territorial integrity remains unwavering."