American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2012 – The U.S. military has continually maintained a strong presence in the Middle East and will continue to do whatever is necessary to maintain peace there, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.
The Navy’s 5th Fleet and other military forces continue their presence in the area, Panetta said at a Pentagon news conference, but their training and preparations have not changed since Iran threatened last month to close the Strait of Hormuz, a major shipping route.
“We obviously always continue to make preparations to be prepared for any contingency,” the secretary said. “But we are not taking any special steps, at this point, in order to deal with the situation. Why? Because, frankly, we are fully prepared to deal with that situation now."
Panetta said he continues to hope diplomacy will prevail between the two countries.
“We would hope that any differences that we have … would be peacefully resolved, and done through international laws and international rules,” he said. “We abide by those international laws and international rules; we would hope that Iran would do the same.”
Meanwhile, Panetta said, communication continues. “We have channels in which we deal with the Iranians,” he added, “and we continue to use those channels”
Pursuing diplomacy always is an option, Panetta said. “But in order for that to work, it takes two,” he added. “We’ve always made clear, in terms of any threats to the region, that we’re always prepared respond militarily if we have to.”
Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said at a Jan. 11 news conference that the presence of two U.S. carrier groups in the U.S. Central Command area of operations is just “prudent force posture requirements set by the combatant commander,” and is nothing out of the ordinary. The two carrier groups in the 5th Fleet region continue the nearly constant U.S. naval deployments to the region since World War II, Kirby noted.
“That presence changes all the time,” he said. “It fluctuates based on needs and requirements set by the combatant commander and approved by the Joint Staff and the secretary of defense.”
Panetta confirmed today that he and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak postponed upcoming joint military exercises planned in the area after Barak suggested they needed more planning. The joint exercises have occurred about a dozen times, Panetta said, and the postponement had nothing to do with tensions with Iran.