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US power in Gulf here to stay: Hagel

MANAMA -- Diplomacy with Iran must be backed up by U.S. military might, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said Saturday in a speech addressed to Gulf allies anxious over a nuclear deal with Tehran.

Hagel promised the United States would maintain a 35,000-strong force in the Gulf region, as well as an armada of ships and warplanes, despite the recent deal with Tehran.

Speaking at a security conference in Bahrain, he said the interim deal with Iran to roll back its nuclear program was a risk worth taking but that Western diplomacy should not be “misinterpreted.”

“We know diplomacy cannot operate in a vacuum,” he said.

“Our success will continue to hinge on America's military power, and the credibility of our assurances to our allies and partners in the Middle East.”

The Pentagon “will not make any adjustments to its forces in the region — or to its military planning — as a result of the interim agreement with Iran,” he added.

In a trip meant to reassure Gulf allies wary of America's diplomatic opening with Iran, Hagel enumerated an array of U.S. weaponry and resources deployed in the region.

“We have a ground, air, and naval presence of more than 35,000 military personnel in and immediately around the Gulf,” he said.

The military footprint includes 10,000 U.S. Army troops with tanks and Apache helicopters, roughly 40 ships at sea including an aircraft carrier battle group, missile defense systems, radar, surveillance drones and warplanes that can strike at short notice, he said.

“Coupled with our unique munitions, no target is beyond our reach,” said Hagel, in an apparent reference to “bunker buster” bombs designed to penetrate deeply buried targets.

A senior U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters the speech sent a message of solidarity to Gulf allies while also conveying a warning to adversaries “that any sort of mythology of American retreat is just wrong-headed.”

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