Mark Esper: Peace treaties aim to build 'security construct' against Iran

"So many... countries in the region recognize that the biggest concern they have... is Iran and its maligned behavior," he said • Craft responding to Zarif: "You can't have it both ways"

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks to reporters at the Pentagon on March 5 (photo credit: YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS)
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks to reporters at the Pentagon on March 5
(photo credit: YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper addressed the recent agreements to normalize relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, saying that they could help deter Iran.
“It is a great success by the president and his team in the White House,” Esper said on Tuesday, in remarks at the Atlantic Council in Washington, adding that “we’ll see if more countries follow as well. We’re all hopeful, and everybody is trying to roll in that same direction.”
Esper said that the normalization agreements are essential for multiple reasons. “It’s the diplomatic opportunities it presents, it’s the security and it’s the economic [opportunities].”
He noted that Arab countries “see that there is great potential for economic growth if there is normalization.”
Another factor, he said, is that “so many of the countries in the region recognize that the biggest concern they have – [and that] we have – is Iran and its malign behavior through that region for four decades. It spans all the way from Africa across the Middle East into Afghanistan.
“So we see the common threat of Iran – and how do we stand together against that?” he asked. “The vision would be to have some type of security construct where countries on the peninsula, Israel, and others are working together to deter conflict with Iran. We orchestrate much of that now through CENTCOM, if you will, but all those countries have an interest and certainly have concerns: freedom of navigation through the Persian Gulf, freedom of commerce, threats to the sovereignty of countries.”
Esper, who spoke about building and strengthening a network of alliances and partnerships to deter conflict, mentioned the Iranian attacks against Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure last year and the Islamic Republic’s involvement in Iraq.
“Iran is all over the region,” he said. “So I think that countries are recognizing that reality. And they see the other possible benefits as well of normalization.”
In his opening remarks, Esper said that as the US continues to build strategic relationships with nations, it is also deepening cooperation with its most loyal partners.
“Shortly after the signing of the historic US-facilitated Abraham Accords, I hosted my Israeli counterpart at the Pentagon to reaffirm the United States commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge, and I hope to visit Tel Aviv in the coming weeks to follow up on our discussions,” he said. “We continue to work closely to develop advanced capabilities, particularly in missile defense.”
Meanwhile, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft rejected the speech of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
“We can choose to remain prisoners of the past and perpetuate instability and tension,” Zarif said at the United Nations Security Council. “Or all of us can choose peace, security, stability and prosperity for all. The choice should be obvious to all.”
“If Zarif truly meant what he said today, then Iran would cease its support to non-state actors and abide by its international obligations,” Craft tweeted in response. “Instead, it supports terrorist groups and proxies in violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions. You can’t have it both ways.”