US speeding up missile defences in Persian Gulf
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Last Updated: Sunday, January 31, 2010, 22:06
Washington: As it mulled imposing tougher sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear ambitions, the US is accelerating the deployment of its military assets against possible Iranian missile attacks in the Persian Gulf, placing special ships and antimissile systems in at least four Arab countries.

President Barack Obama spoke of the shift in his first State of the Union address on January 27, warning of "consequences" if Iran continued to defy United Nations demands to stop manufacturing nuclear fuel.

The countries that accepted the defence systems were Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait, The New York Times reported, quoting US military officials as saying.

They said the Kuwaitis had agreed to take the defensive weapons to supplement older, less capable models it has had for years. Saudi Arabia and Israel have long had similar equipment of their own.

The news that the US is deploying Patriot antimissile defences appears to be part of a coordinated administration strategy to increase pressure on Iran, the paper said.

The deployments are also partly intended to counter the impression that Iran is fast becoming the most powerful military force in the Middle East, to forestall any Iranian escalation of its confrontation with the West if new sanctions are imposed, it paper said.

In addition, the administration is trying to show Israel that there is no immediate need for military strikes against Iranian nuclear and missile facilities, the paper quoted Obama administration officials as saying on the condition of anonymity.

By highlighting the defensive nature of the buildup, the administration was hoping to avoid a sharp response from Tehran, it said.

Gen David Petraeus, the US Central Command chief who is responsible for American military operations across the Middle East, mentioned in recent public speeches about upgrading Patriot missile systems in the Gulf, which originally were deployed in the region to shoot down aircraft but now can hit missiles in flight.

Petraeus also said the US was now keeping Aegis cruisers on patrol in the Persian Gulf at all times. Those cruisers are equipped with advanced radar and antimissile systems designed to intercept medium-range missiles.

Iran contends that it is not trying to develop nuclear weapons, and that its programme is for energy production.

The White House declined to comment on the deployments. But administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the moves have several aims.

"Our first goal is to deter the Iranians," said one senior administration official. "A second is to reassure the Arab states, so they don't feel they have to go nuclear themselves. But there is certainly an element of calming the Israelis as well."


First Published: Sunday, January 31, 2010, 22:06

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