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U.S. To Keep 35,000 Troops In Gulf

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has offered assurances to America's Persian Gulf allies that diplomacy over Iran's nuclear program is backed by U.S. military power.

In a speech in Manama, Bahrain, on December 7, Hagel said Western diplomacy with Tehran should not be "misinterpreted."

He told the Manama Dialogue, a regional security forum, that success in negotiations will "hinge on America's military power."

"For decades Iran has exported instability and violence across the region and beyond as it continued to develop its nuclear program," he said. "Iran has been a profoundly destabilizing influence, and a nuclear armed Iran would pose an unacceptable threat to regional and global stability."

The November 24 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers has alarmed leaders of the mostly Sunni Muslim Gulf states, who regard Shi’ite-led Iran as a threat.

The interim deal calls for Iran to suspend parts of its nuclear activities for six months in exchange for partial relief from Western economic sanctions.

Hagel said the agreement "bought time for meaningful negotiation, not for deception" and that U.S. diplomacy would ultimately be backed up by military commitments and cooperation with regional partners.

The defense secretary added that the United States remains committed to maintaining 35,000 troops in the Persian Gulf region, including 10,000 Army troops and an aircraft-carrier battle group.

"Today, as America emerges from a long period of war, it will not shirk its responsibilities," Hagel said. "America's commitment to this region is proven. And it is enduring. I look forward to our dialogue."

In Tehran, President Hassan Rohani defended the interim nuclear deal, saying that improving the economy is as important as maintaining a peaceful nuclear program.

Rohani, who faces the difficult task of selling the interim deal to skeptics at home, told university students on December 7 that "without economic might, our national might won't be enhanced."

Surprise Afghanistan Visit

After leaving Bahrain, Hagel travelled to Afghanistan to visit with American forces stationed there.

The unannounced visit on December 7 comes amid a stand-off between Washington and Kabul over a security agreement.

U.S. officials said no meeting was scheduled with President Hamid Karzai, who refuses to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement allowing U.S.-led NATO forces to stay in the country beyond 2014.

However, Karzai’s spokesman said the Afghan president and Hagel were due to hold talks later on December 7.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
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